Molecular Baby

November 8, 2010

We saw the Cartier-Bresson show in New York
and then in Chicago and now
it’s here in San Francisco.

This picture, though, is
from The New York Review of Books,
a picture of a dirt courtyard in Dessau, Germany,
in 1945.

Refugees, the caption reads, in a transit camp.

A woman sits on a suitcase; a man
is on his knees. They are embracing in the shade
of a huge tree—

It’s probably a nice fruit tree too—Cherry Pink
and Apple Blossom White
, as the old song
would have it.

The war is over.  The woman
is starring hard at Henri and his camera,
as if the future is out there, as if it’s in that camera,
not in the picture at all.

It’s as if the future is like that truck
somewhere west of here, driving them past
a camp full  of dysentery
to those cousins in a place she thinks is
called Kleve Lund, to a man she must
call Uncle John, aka Johan,
if he gets the papers right,
or if he even tries…

If they get there.

For in Cleveland she’ll dance to Perez Prado’s
big hit in 1955, and she and Herman
will mambo and cha-cha-cha
and in 1960 they will do the twist with Chubby Checker.

Herman will marry her too, as this picture  seems
to propose, for the future
is a sort of receding pane of glass,
she thinks, something you can
reach out and touch, maybe even walk through,
a glass so clear and clean you might slip through
like a kind of molecular baby, born
anew, free of all the old ideas,
the old prejudices. Free of the old ways.

This is in 1945.

The future could be like a new lens
for an old camera.

Or it could be any old piece of glass.

Henri, a picture of a dirty courtyard, please.

Take it now.

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2 Responses to “Molecular Baby”

  1. extrasimile Says:

    Thank you. I’m sure you know how nice it is to hear from someone out of the blue with a kind thought about something you’ve written.
    I took some time to look at your blog. And I do think I see similarities between us: An interest in the seasons, the passing of them, for one. And I’ll wager you’re a big fan of W.H. Auden’s Musée des Beaux Arts…
    It was good to hear from you.

  2. John Stevens Says:

    I’ve enjoyed this a lot. I was drawn in by the very natural voice and the hint of the subject matter; I liked the slow unfolding of the theme and the way the ideas circulate and recirculate through to the closure; and I find it leaves thoughts in the mind, lingering …


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