She stands, one slim-fingered hand on hip, the other reaching inside the open rear window of a hump-backed car, the kind you see only in old pictures of your parents; her right hand on her hip, cocked at a flirtatious angle, posing to please unseen photographer; smiling, preening, teasing. The man, we assume it is a man, crouches low to improve the line of sight, captures classic Athenian bone structure— Grecian nose, head held high, hair back raven black against milky sky.
My mother (I wish I knew her then!) proud, poised in new blue dress accenting slenderness of waist, hips that mold to delicate splayed fingers; hips that have probably been caressed a thousand times by the man who now caresses her entirety of face, hair, body, eyes, catching her soul in his lens, the way primitive people’s souls are caught and held and sometimes enslaved by the camera’s unforgiving eye.
And let me tell you about that dress! It fits her like the skin of a newborn colt, like the feathers of a hummingbird in flight, like smooth bark of a eucalyptus tree before molting; she and dress melding as one, the thicket of hair a mystery framing a face that exists as an extension of that magnificent dress.
No one else could ever wear such a dress.
A dress of that blue they call navy; a field of flowers in yellow and white (I imagine - the picture is in black and white) splashed across the night of her supple body; navy as the Navy blues my father wears to sweep her off her dainty feet into this car, this life, this picture; Providence Rhode Island 1949, picture I sweep into the album with all the others taken from that time until the end of childhood.
from her bower of scented pine
the blue bird chants the wonder
of first newly cracked egg
This is the day I follow a woman, compelled, stalking her along a Manhattan street, my camera angled downward, synchronizing my steps to hers, snapping as I go, her bag slapping at her side, Capezio shopping bag adorned with Modigliani face familiar as the face of the woman by the car —dark hair swept back, eyes older, unsmiling, lips pursed like a woman who knows more than she bargained for – thwacking at the women’s thigh, against the dress she wears, Navy blue, sprinkled with yellow and white flowers, vintage rayon dress circa 1949 (I imagine) smart once more New York City 1971.
I do not know this yet; how can I? I am a visitor here, with my borrowed camera brought with me to steal the souls of strangers, as they call to me that way only strangers can. All I know is propulsion forward, that face now stylized on a plastic bag, holding dancing slippers, a tiger patterned leotard, or maybe only her lunch. I am drawn by the face on the bag and not the woman carrying the bag. If I look up at her; if I see the cant of her head, her hair might be blonde; she might be impossibly tall or fat; something tells me not to look, and my camera carries itself and me back to the face moving ahead and down and then finally out of range of my prying lens.
And that dress, fabric slick and worn and loved and smooth and loose and swaying about the knees, dazzling in sunlight, capturing me as I capture it; sealed away inside my mysterious black box and saved like a treasure, like a bird’s nest fallen from an apple tree in the last strong wind of winter. Like a talisman I do not know the meaning of
posing, I throw back my head
to reflection, miming laughter,
still unable to crack open and soar
Today, unpacking the past, digging through layers of unremembered memorabilia, I find, then frame, the two photos, forgotten until this move, hopefully the last. Placing them side by side, I stand stunned before twins; faces long, one laughing, the other not, one alive, the other cartoonish, a caricature of the first; but the dress! It arrests my brain, overwhelms the prints, collapses the years between, flower for flower, swirl for swirl, fabric for fabric. This dress, oh, yes, maybe mass manufactured in rayon after silk went extinct during the war, and fabric was scarce and saved, and passed down, and dresses went to thrift stores for fashion-retro minded 70’s chic chicks until today it reaches its final destination, in black and white on my wall, chemically preserved the way a corpse is drained of all color and saved for later reincarnation and remembrance.
in the park buzzards
one two three take flight and wheel
into thin air