Portrait of My Father the Photographer as a Dying Man by Bobby Parrott

Photo of tall weeds
Photo by Fred Wilbur

Does her dimpled-cheek delirium still thrill
          you? Or her death escalate as you try to focus,

cataracts pixilating her image, static of hail
          in late-day snow? Do her eyes ring almonds

of tender memory? Times I wrestled your camera
          away so you’d stand with her. Mom’s little-girl smile,

head on your chest you contain her, blue-sweatered, small
          in your bulky leather-jacketed arms. She secretly hated

your obsession. Told me so, yet smiled dutifully,
          willed your Kodak to break open, admit its blindness,

thirsty glass eye hiding yours. These mounted prints—
          all you’ve had of her for what, thirty years? Oh Dad, don’t

tell me how much time you’ve spent making these. I once
          saw the camera as a time machine. Spring-loaded blink

of the metal blade, and your wife’s pale wrists perfected
          in a clean-blue action of capture. The perishable flower

of her hand holding the tea cup. I’m here in this one, too,
          inside her where you’d both put me one morning. Do you see

her that way in these photos— playful spoon-faced angel
          caught here in her downward arc? She was eighteen then,

pregnant with me, hands on smooth hips, summer butterfly
          blurred in wings— She breathed, vein-strapped and laughing

outside of these frames. You meant to keep her, negative
          reversal, frozen safe onto film, canistered in this basket-

catch projection. I can still see her bunched brow curve
          in search of you. You were busy slicing her light streams

precisely into thousandths-of-a-second. Did you know
          the same light also falls on another? You do remember—

How a touch brought your cheek to her breast? Her milk
          let down, the squirm of suckling you? Through your father’s

lens, your mother still holds you. Bound in two dimensions
          here in high-neck bodice. Glacial in her lacy frame of virtual,

slate eyes still saying, I will never die, will never, ever leave
          you. First image in a child’s downy head, yours. Now your turn

to leave the room— the walls, already ajar, turn and squeal
          open on cast-iron hinges. What will become of all my pictures?

you ask me, the son you introduced to this craft of keeping.
          Outside, the night moves on, closes its wings on the leaves

as they whisper in words neither of us comprehend. Now
          the closet’s photo-albums fade. The bluish room wavers,

your camera on the dresser. I think of mine in my pocket,
          how I have no albums but my computer. In your archive,

thinner and thinner each print unlayers itself transparent,
          softening the edges of her sleeves as she enters. You touch

her smooth shoulder. Her watercolor face loses definition
          and you smile. You pour out all the toy soldiers who grip

tightly their green plastic guns as they tumble from the mesh
          gift bag. A Christmas morning long past, now somehow here

in your playground vertigo of parting curtains, slipping through
          the dilation in your failing chest. I imagine death pleasing you

with its simpler lens-set, your awakening from a last soft image
          engraved by the capture of actual light. Waves and particles.

Your Minolta’s titanium shutter blades as they fall from time
          asleep, your widening into laughter at this blinding idea of keep.

Bobby Parrott
Bobby Parrott’s poems appear in Tilted House, RHINO, Phantom Kangaroo, Atticus Review, The Hopper, Rabid Oak, New England Review, Collidescope, Neologism, and elsewhere. He lives in Fort Collins, Colo.

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