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.
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.
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
A century and more on
The image is still bright,
The mirrored surface mirroring past lives.
Long after their last goodnight.