I have sent you under separate cover a photo of my grandmother
staring at what were her toes. You will and I will forgive the urge
toward comedy. The grotesque. The now browning portrait of an old
and astonished victim. We neither laugh nor gag; nor do we weep.
We sleep curved in foetal positions and warm our hands between our
thighs. Dreams float in and out of our excoriations: visions mementous
in their possibilities. We declaim from the summits of our slumber.
Next to her you will see my grandfather, in a white sailor’s cap. He is counting upon his fingers. The multitudes of his numberings bewilder the clouds and birds clumped on that segment of horizon: they appear ready to explode into weather, fortune, eventuality. For this reason there are, signally, neither flowers nor wild fruits anywhere within the dimensions of this crumbling landscape. No harbors toward which the red eye can set sail. Only hungers left to ramble vacuously among the salts of old silver. Unsmelled tastelessnesses grim in configuration. A dimly immense bouquet of yellow negatives.
The blur behind their old heads is a boy running. He is, in black and off-white, a rainbow of speed arched behind what it might be they were thinking—a smudge from margin to margin of their minds. He is a spectrum from head to toe. Seeing his chance, he runs to and/or from its arms like a stripe. We see only his going, his wake, his odd track. Neither his birth nor his death are easy to remark. His good humor is inconspicuous. Everything but his swiftness we take on good faith. The lateral mess he makes on the scenery cries out that he was there. Which way did he go?
Know ye that he was my father and his father’s father. The skulls of my putative grandparents illuminate nothing but distance, lanterns swinging back into time—beyond the paper of the photograph, beyond the black paper of the album. Beyond the albumen of patriarchy.
Photomotion. The sere print in your hand chatters with unexpected dimensions. Almost falls from your hand. Cinegrasp. The faces of old people gently swinging forward and back. The boy-blur careening both east and west. The emulsion itself tumbling mite by atom into an inevitable and an incomprehensible mustiness.
And so I am this evening writing to you. I am come out of a blur to witness this composition of letters and punctuation spun from my own hand. I alone have escaped to deliver into your hands and eyes this peculiar message. To welcome you. To befuddle you with such potentialities as kisses and whispers. To befriend you in your inexplicable fading away.
Hale Chatfield founded the Hiram Poetry Review. He had published three volumes of poetry, as well as numerous essays and articles. He was a recent recepient of an NEA grant. (Spring 1975)