Slightly Foxed

I like Sundays. This one is going to be busy. I’ve got a job interview tomorrow as well as the Lifeboat Party radio show, and I need to make sure all of my stuff, the ironed shirt, the three forms of identity, the polished shoes, are all ready for that.

And today after I get some sleep there’s a music thing at the local pub a mile away, then at four nine miles in the other direction a party and then another open-mic gig at The Anchor in Woodbridge. The big question is cab or car? I don’t drink until after I’m not performing, or only one drink, but I might want a drink afterwards.

I talked to a friend yesterday, someone I’ve known since school. “Do something about living in Tony Blair’s Isington,” she said. “I used to read your email rants and laugh out loud.” She still has them from 15 years ago. Maybe we need to talk but we’ve never quite got around to it somehow.

Her advice was don’t be one-dimensional. Despite describing my stand-up stuff as cathartic and affirming and transformational   ( I know, I’ve got to look all that up in a minute as well….) she told me to write stuff not just about my stream of not-quite gelling relationships. Even Wordsworth wrote about daffodils and Coleridge, my West Country dope-addled literary hero above all others, the man who melted and moulded words to create something more akin to a 1980s Tom Petty video than something people in crinolines might read, he wrote about all kinds of stuff. Gardens. Ships. Albatrosses. Crossbows. Caverns, if you’ll pardon the expression, measureless to man.

For years I’ve been fascinated by old photos. At last I think what I meant to write about them has come out properly. Almost. It’ll probably change a little soon but this draft is almost there. I think I’m going to do this one tonight and see how it goes.

 

Slightly Foxed

 

Box Brownies, Linda Eastman,

Cartier-Bresson, Fox-Talbot;

Just the names talk of pictures.

Photo-gravures and glass plates,

Fox-Talbot patented film and wrote a paper

For the Edinburgh Journal of Science

In 1826 bewitching “Some Experiments

On Coloured Flame”; To the Quarterly Journal of Science

In 1827 a paper on “Monochromatic Light”;

And to the Philosophical Magazine

“Chemical Changes of Colour.”

What did it mean?

Long exposures, pained expressions

And the blur of a small boy moving,

Too bored and too young to be so still.

It was the only way they could take pictures

Back when cameras were on tripods

And photographers wore a thick black veil.

Some people thought the camera

Stole their souls. Chief Skittiwash

In the Pacific Northwest, remembered now

Not for his photo but for his mention

In another text, “Demonstrating a conceptual

Link between Wilderness and” something else

I hadn’t the time or inclination to read.

The image was fading and blurred, foxed

Before my eyes like Mr Talbot and the rest.

Fading monochromes spoke of the same;

An instant etched for all time

As if we could stop the clock hands turning.

As if the picture of the people we loved

Could stop them leaving or ageing.

As if seeing their smile, or the way their lip

Curved, framing the flash of their teeth

In the streetlight could bring back their laughter

And that thing she said in the garden,

The day before the sleet.

The daguerrotypes of steam-haunted

Railway stations, the double-engined

Monster bomber about as big now

As the average car, if a car had wings.

These pictures become the images of death.

Not in the machines or even the guns

But the uniformed men, the unformed lives;

The old, the young, the not with us now

The blank expressions and glassy eyes

Trapped on tables and mantlepieces,

The charity shop or the skip,

Staring stiff and still at the sky

From where their picture fell.

And sometimes you know they’re still there.

You can see them. You’ll be taken unawares

In a junk shop or a museum, in a place you’ve

Never been before and suddenly

You see them in the place

Where you dropped your keys

Staring past you out of their years:

A dog, a cart, an older man and a girl

Holding the back of a chair,

A woman frowning as she stands

For the photographer with better things

To do before she was fixed forever there.

 

 

“The popularity of picture postcards showing Indian women weaving baskets or digging clams attests to a growing nostalgia relating to Indians. Historians have demonstrated a conceptual link between the disappearing American wilderness and a changing attitude toward Native Americas by looking at both popular literature and the federal government’s Indian policies. The Indian came to symbolize America’s lost youth, and his image commemorated that unspoiled past.”

 

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