Last century we took a lot of shots
Of what we did, framing things for Look and Life
So we could see us and our lot Riveting the lattice of a skyline
Or walking the I beams of infinite rooms
Over Manhattan, Cleveland, Washington—
Oh elevated light.
We were amassing works—bridges and dams,
Ike’s interstates, highrises; raising tons
Out of a continent unfolding by
Mountain and pit, plain and gradient river,
The convex sky bottling cirrus highs
And the steep cumuli of moody weather,
Oh century of light.
Back then we were stout realists working out
All manner of the world as one-to-one,
The aerials that Margaret Bourke-White got
Of factories and bombed-out towns,
Also the gaunt subtractive stares by Evans,
Whose dust bowl poor became our luminous
And then at Buchenwald there were those faces
Of ourselves—fed guards, starved Poles and Jews,
The citizens of Weimar just trucked in
Bearing the stares of deformed children,
As now our lenses focused on the krill
And undertow of the swallowing real
Weather of enlightenment.
Add in atomic white, the napalm blind . . .
An overbright disequilibrium
Had settled in, a kind of countermind,
Blind as those guards at Buchenwald, darkroom
And looking up, gashed faces wide with fear,
All interrogatives frozen where
Someone holds a light
For focusing Margaret Bourke-White;
While the two guards, deserving or not, stripped
To bloody underwear, still looking up
In horror at what’s coming next, hear "Pop!"
Thanks to the flash, so everyone will see
Us taking our turn at victory,
|First published in Virginia Quarterly Review. Copyright © 2006 Wyatt Prunty. Used with permission of the author.|