The Mantle

Image of JKing


27 readings


Jury Selection

On the mantle, in the house that belongs to a man with white hair,
Sits an old camera with film, and negatives bare.
Undeveloped photographs from times he’s forgotten,
Places and material objects, past recollection.
People he loves and people he can no longer identify,
All wait on this mantle as life slips by.

A boy once posed in front of the viewfinder, later
Becoming the man behind the camera--the one framing the shots.
That man now rests quietly in his chair, idling like the camera.
Holding his secrets.
A witness to this life.
It's all there, in the photo albums carefully assembled,
Tucked on the shelf beneath the coffee table.

When he first appeared in photographs, 1924,
He was a mother's enchantment, a curly haired, blue eyed boy.
Seen with a beloved pony and his family’s faithful dog.
Later he was fascinated by all things that moved fast.
Engines humming. Wheels turning. Dust flying.
The innocence of young manhood, often heard shouting,
“Hey, you, take my picture!”

High school graduation, Pearl Harbor, 1941.
The Army Signal Corps at an age too young.
Absent from home for the next four years.
His sergeant taught him how to capture life around him.
In the jungles of India, China, and Burma,
With a box camera, he developed film in his tent.
In those tiny, black and white images is a newsreel of
Stories. Escapes. Injuries. Fighting.
For some, pictures of a void into which a person might forever plunge.
But. Not him.
He says he was a lucky one.
He survived, although changed.

Marriage came in 1947 to the girl back home.
A child arrives in 1953.
And twins two years later.
Photographs from that time
Show pajama-ed children holding toys beside a Christmas tree.
He climbed telephone poles to make a living.
Proudly mowed acres of fields on his farm on the weekends.
A hard worker and the life of any party.
With his family, he could be headstrong, unruly.
Sudden flashbacks--puzzling and disconcerting--came and disappeared.
The source too subtle or too private to decipher.

It was Mom's doing, when things were the easiest.
She interposed herself, distracting him with a foot under the table.
You could disagree with his words, but his bearing was irrefutable.
Photographs bring it all into focus:
A man working to recapture the time he had once lost.
We came to see, respect, and love the quiet spots.
The jokester in him. His boundless energy. Mr. Fix-It.
The man who wanted to climb every hill to see what was on the other side.
Traveling the world, with his wife,
Never wishing to see the same landscape twice.

Now in the midst of his ninth decade, the metronome of life still keeping time.
On the sofa, he assumes the posture of sleep.
Gap-mouthed. Yet he insists he is only resting his eyes.
Awake, he comes at things from a different angle.
His gait is unsteady. Like a puppet severed from its strings.
Blue veins crawl over the bones of his hands.
How tired and weary is his gaze as he looks into our eyes.
His mind sometimes in a fugue.
But, be not fooled.
Alongside the ticking of the wind up clock,
Resides the same heart.
The same wing beat.

On a good day, albums open, he wants us to see
What he has done
And to listen to what happened.
In his mind's eye, the fog lifting, taking its bearings.
The man with many stories holds court for the umpteenth time.
And, we see, at second glance,
A glimpse of the man no longer cocooned in silence.
He has decided on his own what he wants to do and say.
For a few moments.
Our world's center no longer off balance.

And, no longer gone awry.


Image of 2019


Image of Poetry

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