A Picture’s Worth
Before becoming a lineman
over forty years ago
for Appalachian Power,
he went house-to-house
reading meters, which he hated.
The coveted job was in climbing poles.
Way out in the country drudgery
on a bend along the New River,
my grandfather came across
a house that once had electricity,
an old homestead abandoned.
The door was left ajar, so he called
into the dark front room
for an answer, any reply.
As he stepped in with hesitancy,
all he found was emptiness
and cigar boxes of old photos,
heaped over and spilling,
spread out in the floor,
nameless faces staring back at him
from the forsaken dust,
weathered and tired, but still smiling
with white eyes and scarecrow poses.
He dropped his clipboard,
grew sickened at the sight of
these intimate, orphaned memories,
the scattered pictures of forgotten people.
Grandpa swore he never wanted
to be like the ones in those photos,
his family left behind for some stranger
to find scattered to the elements,
curiously shuffled and nosed through,
intimacy forced through mildewed teeth.
He would rather his pictures be burned,
and their secret ashes scattered,
than left out to slowly shrivel
like so many bleached bones in the sun.
Ninety years of captured moments
sag open on the kitchen table
in shoeboxes stacked haphazardly.
My grandfather and I pore over photos.
Through my bewildered hands
pass faces I don’t find familiar,
have never seen in their youth
when the world seemed black and white.
Some photos frustrate him greatly
because he can’t quite trace
the tenuous connection
between memories and moments,
and there is no one else who can.
Sifting through the scalloped edges,
waiting for an answer, any reply,
we hold an informal séance
in the yellow lamplight,
for his memories to spark
a blue flame of interest in me.
We try to resurrect diligently
those whom the world has forgotten,
as time sifts them to unmarked graves.