Ferrotype by Karen Drayne

drayne
An Unknown Lady.
A typical studio portrait using a backdrop of a view of Niagara Falls.
Image Courtesy of Niagara Falls Public Library

My great-grandparents are both twenty-one.
This is their honeymoon.  They sit in front
of a pasteboard screen of Niagara Falls
painted in aniline blues and greens.

Unnecessary props—plaster columns, draperies
and wax flowers—have been pushed aside.
He leans his elbow on the false balustrade,
restless in his dark suit, one leg extended,

One hand hidden behind her back.
Both of them frown at the camera.
He has not even taken off his hat
to balance it on his knee. Perhaps

he is already thinking of leaving.
Inverted in the viewing glass her white dress
wavers in and out of focus. The photographer
bends above his box and pleated bellows,

a black cloth over his head.
He tends the image carefully, as if
it is a lantern he is trying to keep
alight. This far north the sun sets early.

Beyond the glass wall of the studio
it is already night. The photographer lifts
his hand to bid them to be still. He lights
the touch paper. The shutter clicks.

Magnesium flashes with the power of
twelve hundred candles. As the column
of white smoke settles, the room fills
with a fine metallic powder. Their faces are

both silvered over. This is the only photograph
of them together. They do not move or speak.
Outside each second nine thousand tons of water
fall through the full dark of the last century.


Source:  The New Republic, vol 218, issue 13, March 30, 1998

Leave a Reply