Old Photographs


Who are these, these blameless faces
caught in the heyday of their lives,
in sunlit days and distant places,
the quick of youth within their eyes?
For from their faces I perceive
their lineaments are now in me,
and from their eyes I could believe
that they see and recognize me.

These moments locked in celluloid
are fossils from before my birth;
the instant they portray devoid
of the instant’s measureless worth;
for all this happened long before
my rudiments could stake their claims,
and I had thought we shared no more
than the wealth of blood in our veins.

But wait – what is this ghostly bond,
this stealing sense of ancestry?
What is it calls me back, beyond
the grain of my identity?
What is it makes me mouth a prayer
and taxes my eyes for their tears?
What is it still that makes them stare
across inconceivable years?

Back there, in that unchanging light,
confined and irretrievable,
who could have known what soundless blight
would take the young, the vulnerable,
and leave us only secret tears?
For in the house where we once prayed
and all across my growing years
the yew tree cast its dark green shade.