In my favourite photograph of my father
and my mother- not lost, no, but temporarily misplaced-
I can remember they are looking at a photograph
of my mother’s father and my father’s mother
who are looking at each other on a swing the spring that I was born.
For years we kept it in a box along with many very similar,
but less familiar pictures taken by my father’s father. There’s one
I also like to look at from a fancy photo studio
with painted mountains in the background . It shows,
I think, my mother’s mother holding up my brother,
in a very stiff and artificial pose. For years I thought
the couple in the first picture, that is, the one
my grandparents were in, smiling very naturally,
the snap my parents, a happy pair of lovebirds, stood there holding,
were themselves a couple, married to each other,
but I learned I was mistaken when I told my mother
how in my favourite picture I found she easily could pass
for her mother’s sister and she said, laughing,
by the time that shot was taken, her mother was long dead.
Our heads are filled with smiling faces, imperfect strangers
from a past that grows more mysteriously opaque
with every photograph we take. Even when we jot down
on the back a time and place, we are liable to mix up faces.
What is intended as a help to keep the record straight
an aide memoire, serves to rub in just how fallible we are.
I’ve even begun to suspect the next thing I will discover
is that it’s me and not my brother in my unknown father’s mother’s arms.
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