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from “The Myth of Photography”

by Rick Bursky


It’s so easy for nothing to happen. Dust rises
from the pavement when I shuffle my shoes
— that’s what I should have been looking at.
Art is something about to happen,
ventriloquist of the present tense.
The man pulled a black cloth over his head to block
the ambient light, to focus, to compose. The something
about to happen is the telling.

Attached to the side of a building, a thirty-one foot clown
dressed as a ballerina, a man was photographing it
with a wooden camera mounted on a heavy tripod.
While strolling to lunch, I walked past, as I had
many afternoons, without ever stopping.
Only one hundred yards away,
the entire pacific ocean and not the salt
of a single wave in the photograph.

Standing in line at the camera store the man in front of me was blind. I asked, “Can you photograph sound?” We argued about this before.


A stranger walking at night, camera on a tripod leaning against
a shoulder like a soldier walking guard duty — and you followed,
to see what he sees. No, no, you’ve come for the séance.
On a pedestal, a ten foot hand holding an automobile.
In the afternoon, a carwash advertisement.
In the evening? Photography, doesn’t it let you decide for yourself?
The wash of streetlights made it simple to photograph.
I’m the stranger. Do you smell my aftershave?
I’m standing next to you whenever you look my photographs.
The aperture was sixteen. The speed
of the shutter, roughly one second, I’m guessing.
Night is more a hunch than a science.
This wasn’t the first time police officers questioned me,
alone on a dark street is always suspicious.
The photograph is the Ouija board. Hold it with both hands.


Rick Bursky’s poems have appeared in many literary journals including American Poetry Review, Iowa Review, and Harvard Review. The poems featured here are from his manuscript in progress, The Myth of Photography. His first book, The Soup of Something Missing, was released by Bear Star Press in October 2004. (1/2005)

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