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I Keep Two Photos Next to My Bed

by Brian Roberts


One is of my father, brother, sister,
and me, from the waist down, standing
in front of a Shell station in Harlan, Kentucky.
A busload of Amish came through
while we bought Moon Pies and Cherry Cokes.
I stopped a kid whose beard hadn’t grown:
I thought ya’ll didn’t use cars. He looked
at the bus, scratched his bare chin:
We’re not driving it. We paid the driver.

When I asked him to take our picture,
he blushed, said he’d never used one before.
I told him to aim, push until the green light
came on, then push harder.

The other is of my wife’s calves, my forearm,
and a mackerel on our honeymoon to Topsail Island,
North Carolina. After I sweated the seven-inch
leviathan up onto the pier, Norma stopped
an old man with a bucket: Will you
take our picture real quick?

He hadn’t used a camera either. I told him to aim,
push until the green light came on,
then push harder, and Norma asked
could he make sure it was a full body shot.

When I dream at night, of what I want
in joy and in life, I dream things wrong
like the dreams are someone else’s dreams
of me seeing a stranger pushing
without knowing why. Then in flashes
I am the stranger, dreaming in calves,
halves of arms, mackerels. A black wad
of gum by our feet in Harlan
becomes beach tar salted
by its photographic negative,
the lambent moon spraying
phosphorescent on North Carolina sand.