Jed Myers


—for my daughter turning sixteen

My old camera, the black, chrome-trimmed
all-metal cumbersome Nikkormat, lugged
over Yosemite's eastern escarpment
and back its first summer in my hands
when I was a young man, its fat lens
attachment a time tunnel, through
which the arrangements of light entered
the molecular bed of the sprocketed scroll,
an instantaneous past
congealed in that magic chamber, facts
sealed in emulsion, lightning-struck
pines on eroding slopes ten thousand
feet above the ghost of the ocean
under me—the inner history
of those moments, we can't see
when we open the cardboard box I keep
at the end of the walk-in closet and look
through the heaps of black & white prints. I knelt
and steadied myself on the bright gray rocks,
struggled against the tremble
of awe, anxiety, and exhaustion,
unable to slow my breaths
in the oxygen hunger of such a height,
failing at the stillness I thought called-
for to justify the click, to open
the shutter, its sixtieth
of a second to let in the immensity
I shook before. The thoughtless brilliance
of those ragged walls, the burnish
of the wind and the ultraviolet onslaught
of relentless sun on the skins of those insistent
trees, the stunning vaultedness of the air
itself I could see as the start of Heaven
there between the tall tiers and ridges—

I never did capture the boundless
roar I shivered in, no print
an open window onto the shimmering
ocean of being I near-drowned in.

Now you, my dear, sixteen,
hold the same near-antique box
of darkness in your elegant hands, eager
to call through the tunnel behind the lens,
through the black iris of the aperture,
the radiance in the laughing eyes
of your friends, the lonely hopes
in the branched arroyos down the faces
of strangers on benches by the lake,
joy's symmetry in the yellow and pink
unfoldings of the daffodils and camellias…

You may take as many shots as I did,
hauling that heavy old contraption out
into the woods, up the snowy passes,
down luminous mossy creek beds,
through the streets and alleys between
the sheer cold city cliffs where souls
show themselves in squints, stares,
winces, and scared smiles—you might
ensnare ten thousand images inside
the Nikkormat's alchemical crucible,
and still never net in the instrument's
negative matrix the brightness in the air,
the frameless shimmer, say, of one instant
of summer day, anywhere
you stand, as no camera—
no set of watercolors, no song
invented on a guitar, no poem—
ever can hold the whole of a moment,
a single breath of the world. I failed
and failed to fix on film one flash
of the wonder pouring out of the sky
when I tried. But a glimpse,
a reminder, of what we felt
when we stumbled before the undepictable—
yes, you might find
that in your print, that call
back into the perpetual torrent
of light cascading over all
the exquisite surfaces, the petals,
curtains of ice, clouds, and faces
of life tumbling through space.


A Grounding

It was a time of wings and fins.
We emulated the planes—
Grampop's Dodge Dart, white rocket
steadied in flight by its aerodynamic
flared taillights; my dad's
wide-brimmed fedora a flap
for lift as he dashed to the airport
for Bangkok; the lean city kids' black
wingtips flashing the sidewalk like scoffs
at gravity—
              but I couldn't fly.
My mother's glasses, pearly-sheen frames
slanting out to points outside
the sides of her temples, added loft
and acceleration to a narrow face
already at some great speed through space
and time, pilot eyes amplified
in those cockpit oval panes. She'd catch me
in a lie before it left my lips—
my mouth a cache of secrets gashed
agape by her laser gaze, stunned
tongue dry in high-velocity headwinds
there on the runway, no Icarus
I, pinioned fast in her sights,
her precise fighter-jet lights.
It was a grounding.
                            I'd walk
outside to play, in the uniform
glare of the asphalt expanse between rows
of post-war row houses, daydream
the broad high roost of my grandmother's house
in the shade of those heavenly sycamores,
across the city as the mind's crow flies—
strawberries and sour cream on the porch,
her soft adoring hands, her
voice a prattling breeze of Yiddish
affections, the promise of evening
borscht—and I'd be transported
on invisible feathers, to that world
where pigeons sing the wordless truths
in spring's open windows, and we find
our ease despite the flash of memory's
icy blades through the shadows, as
the slow turn of earth takes us under
the wide raven's wing of night.