Who shall remember my house, where
shall live my children’s children…
-T. S. Eliot, “A Song for Simeon”
Old photos in a box, print after print, stories
missing of those who entered the frames
then stepped away, shaking off memory
misstep, faded joy.
Great-grandpa, six months old
sitting in a high pram frowning into his future.
Auntie Nell dancing on the table through the gin
flinging skirts like Gracie Fields
war songs louder than the sound of gunfire
in the sands of Libya where Uncle Alf fell.
In another province, two brothers not speaking
voices lost to each other, memory subtracted
and here, a niece broken by judgment
dismissed to hell by an old man
and old woman.
What was done, then undone years and years ago.
Dancer, baby, the man standing, the old woman
trying to smile in a photo yellowed at the edges—
stories written on my eye
and blood, my bone.
These stored images
belong to you, cracked photos
in albums, preserved
by others against rot, corrosion
drowning, page after page
old faces staring into old cameras.
Your great-great-grandmother from Russia
great-grandfather lost at sea, here
a forgotten cousin, aunt, or drunk uncle
and look, two babies
entering the crossroads
of life’s precious, terrifying moment
between birth and death.
What sound did their voices
make on wind? What stories of the day
did they tell at breakfast
or dinner, if there was dinner—
about how or where
they might have walked
or hidden, loved and cheated
blessed each other, lied
Or told of the day robins
returned to the garden
how arthritis set in for the aunt
what name they gave the too-early baby
who lay in a box on the stove door.
Look carefully at each photo
hold the fragments in your memory
and even under the weight
of their untold lives, let these faces
weave a line, an ancient thread
to lead you home to yourself.