Old Photos

Old Photos

They capture our likenesses, we like to say:
mates in shirtsleeves outside a coastal pub,
our great-grandparents on their wedding day.

Dated, liver-spotted, bent –
our photos and our flesh seem to contain
a single destiny: the image fades

As illness fastens on; her smile
belies her tragedy; cancer is killing him
like acid rain: a woman on a shingle

Beach alone, clutches her cardigan
with folded arms. I become
the camera viewing them

Between the calibrations and the flashing
red, the hairline fractures of the frame.
But if only they were less obedient

In their Sunday best, watching
the dicky-bird, saying cheese. If only
they weren’t so focused on the past.

I pan to the film of water at the ocean’s
edge where my children play –
shadows of themselves as the tide comes in.

I can’t believe their falls portend
the final fall, a Home, dementia, old age.
I take no photograph. Their voices are

Drowned by the breakers at the bar,
faces a blur in the spindrift. And the green-
blue waves unspool forever on Ocean Beach.


'Old Photos' from Antipodes (Auckland University Press, 1996), © Michael Jackson 1996, used by permission of the author. Recording from the Aotearoa New Zealand Poetry Sound Archive 2004.

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