When Honoré shared a poem by Ted Kooser a few weeks back, I put a few of his collections on hold at the library. One of them finally came in and I picked it up this morning. Flipping through the pages, this poem caught my eye … and then grabbed hold of the rest of me. The holiday season seems to be one where we think a lot about the past. in both good and not-so-good ways. When I first read the poem, an image of me, my brother and my sister, lined up on the hearth of our home in Casper, Wyoming (the first house we lived in that had a fireplace), sitting straight and obviously posing for the 1971 Christmas card photo popped into my head. But I think these photos, taken the following year, are better. There’s still a posed one of the three of us
but there are also a handful of candid shots, obviously from Christmas morning.
That Christmas, I’d just turned ten, Steve was seven and Karen was five. I don’t recall anything specific about that year (not even the table top pool game!), but the dynamic among the three of us is hard to miss.
What we remember of it
is what we began to memorize
as children, rehearsing
the same scenes again and again
until we got them perfect,
the father, the mother, the sister
entering from left and right,
obeying the arrows and Xs
chalked onto the stage,
saying their lines precisely
as we would have them said
until these dramas were fixed
in tableaux, enameled mannequins
nodding in storefronts,
raising their hands to comfort
or strike, while our shapes
in the shimmering glass
appear to be standing among them.
And if someone should call
one of our scenes into question,
we rush to its defense,
afraid that the window will crack
and collapse with a crash
and we will have nowhere to turn
to see ourselves reflected
in what we have so carefully
created and directed.
Ted Kooser (from Splitting an Order)
The poem doesn’t speak directly to photos … I’m wondering if they call our scenes into question … or do they become the scenes?