Michael Shepherd

Rookie (8.4.1929 / Marton, Lancashire)

0412 Their World - Poem by Michael Shepherd

It's a sepia photograph, taken, I'm guessing,
1900,1910? The whole of it is taken up by
a crowd on the move, passing the photographer,
who could be, say, clinging to a lamp-post, or on a balcony.
Going to? Leaving? Impossible to tell.
Who's rich? Who's poor? No clue.
What's it got to tell you about - life?
Why go on looking at it? No reason

except that you're human; they were human; and
today, you wish, with increasing intensity,
to connect. In some way. Somewhere at the back of
uncomfortable mind, maybe, lurks the thought that one fine day,
you'll be that anonymous one in that anonymous crowd,
forever recorded - dead on the page;
by the irony of history, photographed
when you were sure that you were alive forever...

There's one chap in the crowd looking at the camera;
as the artist, in some Renaissance adoration, and
slightly aloof from the crowd's concern,
looks out of history at you the spectator - as if to say
I'm there; I'm here; and what of you?

But he's no artist; he's looking boldly at the camera,
a cigarette between his lips at 45 degrees from the vertical -
a cheeky angle you never see today; the equivalent, I guess,
of the V-sign at the camera, as some meaningless, cocky, lively,
spontaneous act of defiance -at what?

Now you can 't put the photo down.
It's like picking at a scab or
a joyless masturbation. It threatens - you threaten -
your sense of security; whatever that might be.
Every one of that crowd lived a valid life.
You'd like to be one of them - or would you?
Why aren't you filled with a joyous sense
of identity and compassion?
A selfish greed, perhaps, to know more than you ever can?

Maybe, one day, you'll pick up that photo once again
and greet them like old friends.


Comments about 0412 Their World by Michael Shepherd

  • (8/11/2005 12:41:00 PM)


    outstandling poem, Michael! i've often wondered the same things about those old brown photos. you've captured the experience perfectly...like a snapshot of a snapshot.

    Jake
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  • (8/11/2005 8:34:00 AM)


    I loved the poem effortlessly, up to the last stanza. We don't need to know any more about the photo. Your easy meter, and your point of view, remind me of Auden's 'Musee de Beaux Arts'. I devoured it word by word. The guy with the cigarette reminds me of a photo of my dad, that I'll send you. It all comes alive.
    The last stanza challenged me a little-I don't think it's a criticism of the poem. I had to think and feel around, to get into why it would threaten security. (These other guys got it fine!) Had to imagine myself holding the picture. Still not sure I have it. And I wondered a little about 'every one...lived a valid life, ' a sentence which stood out for me. I suppose it means you're looking at them 'sub species aeternae', from a sort of divine point of view, and what you crave is the finality, being framed like that. The last sentence brought me fresh air, as an acknowledgement of how mysterious the mind is, and of the transience of feelings, even as you hold them.
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  • (8/11/2005 7:01:00 AM)


    Old photographs can be so haunting. They reek of poetry. You've captured the essence of them so well. (Report) Reply

  • (8/11/2005 6:37:00 AM)


    A great poem, I felt the need to belong and the fear of not belonging, or the fear of fading into an old picture. (Report) Reply

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Poem Submitted: Thursday, August 11, 2005

Poem Edited: Saturday, July 15, 2006


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