Pictures of ?

“One lives in the hope of becoming a memory.” – Antonio Porchia (1886-1968

A strange item among my mother’s remains:
A manila envelope labeled, in a bold print scrawl,
“Pictures of ?” askew on its container,
starting roughly at a level where an address might be
and heading upwards toward where a stamp belonged.
Neither an address nor a stamp are here,
just the scrawl begging for some resolution
not found during her life, except when she acquired it—
the pictures—contained within,
secured with a metal clasp common to these envelopes
(is there a company that makes these pliant fingers
meant to bend, while the other digits grasp the sallow weave
in a death grip, protecting both mysteries and the irrelevant
with the same reverence, a clutching finger and thumb
expecting to be pinched away and hoping all the same to remain
in place?).

Bent away, the clasps don’t break, they yield and reveal
pieces of cardboard holding tight to a well-shot black-and-white
of “?,” a young man in a well-tailored double-breasted suit,
right hand in pants pocket, left hand dangling, fingers curled in
towards the thigh, photographer’s imprimatur low in the right-hand corner:
“Rice,” then “Montreal,” an artist’s signature and culture
cut into the print in a practiced, stylish statement
of artistry, ownership, pride,
enhanced on the reverse by “Rice Studio Limited—For Duplicates No.”—
and then the number “73356-7” on a stamped line, followed by “Montreal, Can.,”
all in an oval, except for the penciled numbers,
graphite as durable as the ink upon which they sit,
a good seventy or eighty years since they were placed there with care
by James Rice, or an assistant (who knows?),
but in the hopes that “?” would call now and then and order
one or two, maybe more, for his family, friends, the people who knew him,
knew he was not a question mark on a manila vault,
but a young guy in a new suit, looking a distance past the querying lens,
past whatever immediate future he faced into a time when everyone he knew
would welcome him back into their homes, into their rituals
of waking, working, eating, sleeping, speaking of life and its hardships,
partnering with the people he cared for,
living an anonymous life in the presence of everyone else.

And here he is again, sitting (this time), in the same studio,
but in a uniform of some type, a left shoulder patch with the word
“American” embroidered into a rectangle, an ellipsis into other,
unknown words, fading off into a past of service to some endeavor.
The young man smiles deep into the lens this sitting,
peering past the convex glass clenched in its mount,
his face, shoulders, arms, and chest contracted into a pinpoint of light,
then inverting, blossoming, and arriving at the emulsion
for sufficient time that the chemicals capture a part of his soul
within whatever device the photographer wielded,
into whatever film was selected for that man, that day,
for another fine portrait of an unknown fellow—
a fresh enlistee? on leave? duty fulfilled?—
smiling with confidence that good things were yet to come
or had already treated him with the kindness he deserved.
Like so many young men before and after these “Pictures of ?,”
this one has gone into the pantheons of memories
held by other people who, in their turn, have disappeared
among all of those hundreds, thousands, millions, and billions
who were everything they hoped they could be
or nothing they ever expected to become
or most usually, I suspect, something in between,
when a photo or two was planned and stored, perhaps forever,
perhaps for those who knew them,
perhaps for those who would wonder someday
who they could have possibly been,
and will we all fade, not like an indelible photograph,
but like a memory held precious by those near
and forgotten, like our own births and deaths, by the rest of the world.

 

Create

Natty

Uniform

Distant

It is a remote possibility that someone will see this and know who this is. I did an image search using several image search engines and came back empty. The photographer (I believe the same photographer took both) was James Rice who is well-known in Canada and in Montreal for many portraits of hockey players (or so I discovered in my searching). I have no reason to believe that this guy was a hockey player, but aside from a suspicion that he served in the “American… (maybe Red Cross?),” I haven’t been able to find an identical shoulder patch that confirms this. Anyway, dear readers, puzzle away. If you know something, please share your knowledge below. I hope the fellow and a long and happy life.

Author: makingsenseofcomplications

I have an academic background in literature and, separately, science. My career has been in industry in positions of increasing responsibility assisting in the drug development process - one of the most amazing intellectual pursuits of the human mind, among many other amazing intellectual pursuits. I am interested in films, philosophy, history, art, music, science (obviously), literature (also obviously), some video gaming, human behavior, and many other topics. I wish there was more time in every day because we have a world that is full of amazing phenomena that are considered too superficially by too many. Although my first and last names are fictional, I think I believe in all of the stuff you read here, although I retain the right in perpetuity of changing my thoughts about anything written herein.

4 thoughts on “Pictures of ?”

  1. Something drew me back to your blog today. I am so glad I read it. I love this poem and I love the concept. This is exactly why I love poetry. So much personal experiences turned into profound thoughts. I love the intrigue. I also love the fact that this poem focuses on our own fragile immortality.

    Liked by 1 person

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