After a Photograph by Roy de Carava


Mark Sullivan

After a Photograph by Roy de Carava

It is a privilege of objects
to become invested with light, to shine past

their dull spectrum, as if struck
with small spotlights on a darkened stage.

And then they can recede again
into that country of shadows we all own

the passport to, our blank anonymity
staring back from reflections in plate

glass, from the compound dots forming crowds
in newspaper photographs. But what if they refuse?

What if just once they step forward
into those bright cones and then won't relinquish

their stunning celebrity? There could be
a music stand in an unpeopled room,

nothing held there but the score for brilliance;
there could be a small table top levitating

within a black pitching space, like a slab
quarried from the slopes of illumination.

Upon it, the remnants of a meal, stacked
white dishes, smeared glass, crumpled

napkin; on all of it a gleaming residue
as if it had served a divinity, some

disguised wanderer in Homer, quietly
feasting at a goatherd's hearth. And that

could be his coat, left behind and so full
of his presence that it seems

to stay upright by itself, without the backing
of an unseen chair. Meanwhile, the other side

of the table, the part dissolving into
a wellspring of darkness, seems to have been held

for one who never arrived. You can tell
by the way the two ketchup bottles (almost

sinking at the back of the picture)
beam their screw tops like lighthouses

that it would be easy to become lost here,
just within sight of this refuge.


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