A Photograph

The cardboard shows me how it was
When the two girl cousins went paddling
Each one holding one of my mother’s hands, 
And she, the big girl – some twelve years or so. 
All three stood still to smile through their hair
At the uncle with the camera, A sweet face
My mother’s, that was before I was born
And the sea, which appears to have changed less
Washed their terribly transient feet.

Some twenty-thirty years later
She’d laugh at the snapshot. “See Betty
And Dolly,” she’d say, “and look how they
Dressed us for the beach.” The sea holiday
was her past, mine is her laughter. Both wry
With the laboured ease of loss

Now she has been dead nearly as many years
As that girl lived. And of this circumstance
There is nothing to say at all, 
Its silence silences.

A photograph dutifully preserves our past so that it never fades away. Even as everything completely changes, the frame does not, it holds those precious smiles still through years. The poem takes us to through the little journey of emotions we experience as we look at old photographs, when all emotions break open and you are left with a bittersweet feeling.

In this poem, the poet is looking at a picture of her mother’s childhood. The picture shows her mother with her cousins on the beach from the time that they went to the sea for paddling. The poetess is remembering the time when she was looking at this picture with her mother years ago. Her mother was laughing as she shared the story of that day with her, telling her what they were doing in the moment, who clicked the picture and laughed off how they were dressed. The poetess lost her mother some years ago and so the photograph brings her a mix of feelings, where she is sad that her mother is not with her anymore but is also glad to remember such happy times. The poet’s mother also went through a similar emotion when she looked at this picture back in time, as she would joyfully remember all the fun things they did back then but also feel sad about the fact that she can never go back in time to live that day again.

The poem is a nostalgic ride that talks about three different time zones. First, the distant past that is the mother’s childhood. Second, the recent past, when the poetess and her mother were discussing the photograph. Third, the present, when the poetess is looking at the photograph and is thinking about all this time that has passed. The poem talks about how the mortal life is extremely transient. The sea in the picture still looks the same, but the people in it are long gone.

At the end of the poem, the poetess falls silent for there are no words that can probably explain this feeling any further, the feeling of ‘laboured ease of loss.’

Featured Image: Chellise Michael Photography



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