The photographer’s shadow – Olive Cotton (1935)
The moment of taking
is the moment she takes.
He is laid out on the sand.
He basks in her shadow
under a monochrome sun.
The triangles of her elbows
are little apertures.
He almost clasps her breasts.
His upside-down glance
He almost clasps his head.
He (almost) is an (almost)
Between the wars the shadow falls.
Falls the shadow, as it falls.
And then, the parade of young men,
in uniform, with their retinue.
A mother, perhaps a father, a sweetheart,
brothers and sisters, a stoic aunt.
For to have his picture taken
before he is shipped out to the war.
The studio is a clearing station.
(I am imagining this.)
Each young man
glimmering with prescience.
This one won’t come home,
laid out upon a foreign field.
This one will come home,
but not the same.
And then the long years of spring
in the forest. With the returned man.
And then another studio in the town
with her signature above the door.
Nothing I am imagining is as true as it was true.
FELT TENDER TOWARDS HER AND HER LIES
Months I had spent, months,
unravelling, as best I could
the stream of hopeful falsehood
that passed her lips.
I resorted to the garden.
‘If one grows,
if one seeds and tends and grows…’
(One says one when one
is dropping a hint.)
She had packets of seeds on her sill
but it was never quite time
I became shrill.
‘If you eat then you grow.
(Or you kill.)
Everything you need to know
is in a seed.’
Then she boasted
of a garden she had inherited,
how the old girls were
from her demesne.
Did I believe her?
Yes, I did
As she walked me to her new flat
I was hopeful, hopeful,
because a garden, a garden,
a garden is the very thing.
I stared at a meagre single plant
in a sandy wilderness of weeds.
I glanced up at the balcony to my left
at the green thumbs there
to the point of overload,
glanced down to her vaunted garden
and understood that she has always felt
Jennifer Compton lives in Melbourne and is a poet and playwright who also writes prose. Her recent work appears in Antipodes, Australian Poetry Journal, Cordite Poetry Review, Poetry New Zealand, Scum Mag, and The North. She has also had work published in The Best Australian Poems 2004–5, 2008, 2011–15 and 2017.
(Photo credit Nicholas Walton-Healey)