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Henry James and the Future of Photography


ISSUE:  Summer 1988

My friend has not called. I send her poems.
She says she likes them,
though they tell too much about farm life,
too little about me.
When I visit her in the summer, she says
she hates her job, she’d like
for me to live closer, that she’s afraid of death,
of the knotting of her hands.

She never says these things.
She sat on my sofa once, hair down in her face,
and smoked and said
she saw a kitten kill a seven-foot rattler
in the Utah desert.
I smiled, knowing her lies. I knew
it was a lie I would give back
another late night. I’d look up from a busted poem
and smile

and drop her a line
about the blacksnake I found in the barn
climbing the shovel handle.
Seven lumps the hen’s eggs made
disappeared
one by one as the snake squeezed the wood.
And then snow,
a black bear licking the raised
red metal flag,
putting its nose in the mailbox,
sniffing the letter,
the poems about the slugs mating
and the hummingbirds,
the postcard of Henry James glaring at this future
he’s glad he’ll never know.

Nobody gives a damn any more
that Daisy Miller got it in the Coliseum.
James sits stiff in the past,
looking the insult of the lens square in the eye.
My friend will smile,
rub her spotted hand over her ruined face, stare
through the misted panes, draw deep
on a cigarette, not writing me again, not calling,
tracing a circle on the glass.
Emerson. She’ll take down Emerson. She’ll try him again.

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