Still Life

I was thinking about old photographs, the way you’ll maybe find a picture of a place you know well, but taken years before you were even born. How sometimes you’ll find a photo of people long, long dead, standing with their dog or a basket of washing on your own front doorstep, this place they knew, this place you know.

Boulevard de Temple, Paris, taken at 8 am by Daguerre, either in 1838 or 1839. We know the time of day but not the year.
Boulevard de Temple, Paris, taken at 8 am by Daguerre, either in 1838 or 1839. We know the time of day but not the year.

And this poem just didn’t come out the way I thought it would. The one I meant to write is still waiting to be written.

 

Still Life

 

Louis-Jacques Daguerre

First captured souls

When men wore promade

And greased the anti-macassars

On chairbacks with their hair.

The image is projected onto a silvered surface,

Shone on the fakery of Sheffield plate 

Exposed to iodine fumes and

Tobromine and chlorine,

Half the firmament of Victorian chemistry

To produce a halide coating,

Carried to the camera

In a light-tight plate holder.

Sensitive in the dark

Like a tender girl.

Then like a magician’s trick.

The light is let in,

An invisible image on the silver plate

A tarnish of light arrested by sodium thiosulphate

Or a hot saturated solution of common salt,

And uncommon liquid gold

Poured onto the ghost’s face

Heated then drained and rinsed and dried.

Underneath the silver will always tarnish.

The picture must be kept under glass.

You can always tell a daguerrotype

Or teep, more properly, as Louis was

Unfortunately French.

A century and more on

The image is still bright,

The mirrored surface mirroring past lives.

Long after their last goodnight.

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