The Old Man, again


photo: Cat Ferguson

(What I learned from a photographer)

The keenest thing I learned in college
was in the last two seconds.
In the final critique, a perfectionist professor
focused on a classmate’s weakness
and urged him to address it.

Another professor,
a photographer renowned in a small circle,
sat quietly in a corner at the back of the room.
For all I know,
he was once like Max Ernst, a handsome ladies’ man.
In his seniority, he was slow and slumped, and to me
he had the lines and warts that youth find

His subtlety was deceptive.
Earlier, I had seen him casually arrange
a tag sale triptych of two cheap lights
and an African antelope carving
in the basement of the studio.
While no one paid too much attention,
he tripped the shutter.

Then something happened.
When he peeled back the emulsion,
the invisible appeared, appalling,
like a solarized aura:
the spirit of the maker
and the key to weaving light and darkness
were nakedly exposed.
Next, he willed us to the night
to capture phantom photograms.

When his colleague had finished, he spoke, sotto voce.
“I zink,” he deadpanned,
“zat he should focus on his strengths.”

* * *

One Response to “The Old Man, again”

  1. This poem is about my grandfather, Herbert Matter. A lot has been said and written about him over the years, yet this is one of my favorites. It captures him perfectly, and makes me nostalgic and grateful at the same time. Thank you!

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