Somebody moved. Somebody didn’t
want his picture taken. So he’s fooling around,
ruining things for everyone else. But sometimes
it’s the mother, the one with the camera,
whose hand shakes and slides them all
out of focus, along with a lake or a mountain,
and usually, beside them, a large plaque
that would have explained where they were.
I don’t often look at the albums of snapshots
my mother so carefully put together.
The oldest, the most beautiful, have black pages
she used white ink to write on—places
and dates, but sometimes a comment:
“Wonderful summer!” Or: “Larry’s first fish!”
Black and white is the way to see the past.
When she turns to color, everything becomes
a little garish and unreal.
Summer vacations, birthdays and Christmas
are the books’ important subjects, the plot
that moves us from season to season, during which
we get more presents and grow older.
Frequently, along the way, we climb out
of the car to admire the view, a mountain,
for example, the upper ledges of which
resemble the head of an Indian chief.
Then we have our picture taken beside the plaque.
“See the Indian,” my mother’s written
in the album, and yes, off in the blur
of distance, there he is: a stern profile
staring enigmatically to the left,
as if down the road we arrived on.
And there we are, my sister, my father,
and me, gazing into the camera.
Since we never asked strangers to help,
one of us is always missing.
I believe my mother often looked
at these books by herself. Perhaps
they made her feel sad, and perhaps
that’s what she wanted to feel.
So many blurred pictures.
She wouldn’t throw anything away,
even if she knew we’d never
find the time to go through it all.
But we could. That was the point.
That was why you saved things.
Because as soon as it’s gone,
my mother said, you’ll want it back.
Somebody moved. Somebody’s always
horsing around, refusing to smile,
pretending he has to escape.
Stand still, she says.
This won’t take a minute.
They’re posing beside another monument,
a man on a horse with a sword,
or they’re leaning against a boulder,
then kneeling at the edge of the ocean.
Now they’re in front of their house.
It’s Christmas. There’s the tree,
the bright circle of presents.
Someday, their mother is thinking,
they’ll have all of these pictures to look at
whenever they want to remember.
This makes her happy, and she takes another
shot of the tree, which every year she says
is the most beautiful tree they’ve had.
And why not? she thinks. Why can’t that be true?