blackbirdonline journalFall 2009  Vol. 8  No. 2
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Imogen Cunningham’s “My Father At Sixty”

What begins as sternness ends
as anxiety: consider this
before she steps behind her camera.
What she must see
before she sees it.

Not this hand-stitched shirt,
this black and Quaker-simple vest, Quaker hair curling

in whisker stitches, gray flesh
above and alongside each elongated ear, half a face erased

by dark, eaten by dark, a shadow
and a beard that may go on forever.
Not this but the plainness

of this father-face
so particular it becomes almost beautiful: forehead

split in the center like a book left too long open, something
like grief in the face, something like tenderness.

The black vest.
The starched, deliberate creases in his shirt.
What does he see

but her shirtwaist straining
against her chest as she bends to adjust his shoulder?
Golden furze along a cheekcurve
and the long haunches in their trouser-like skirt
as it clings to her, glides—
It pains him to sit like this in a studio

filled with gas-lamp smoke and ammonia,
on her elbow now a little grease
from the trolley pole she’d leaned against
as it rumbled its way past Pike Place.

To remain where time is part of the essence
of loving: he cannot shake his head at her,

he cannot speak, he must choose a pose and stay
until an image can affix itself to glass, looking peeled back
from being, until she too changes

back from artist into daughter.

The body doesn’t change. But the eyes change inside the body:

the anger, the pride, the love, the desire—
all his eyes, all his faces in one face

and with them, all his daughters.

He frowns. Light snags in his features.
He watches as she stands under the dark cloth 
to make her portrait

and waits for the face that will forever divide them  end

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