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.
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