Onlookers Gathered at the Traveling Chair’s Arrival

The New Republic

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POETRY MAY 24, 2013

Onlookers Gathered at the Traveling Chair’s Arrival

                             —Mississippi, 1940

So many of them 
faceless beneath the brims
of their hats: so many

men and women, and always
it seems, children too, 
drawn to the spectacle—
 
some finding the camera, 
lifting their faces to history. 
Here: two men stunned

into record, a boy squinting, 
one man smiling as if 
to leave his mark on the day.
 
From the bird’s-eye view
you can see the delicate part
in a girl’s hair, the dapple
 
of shadow on concrete—
leaves of the tree from which
the photographer must be

shooting. I can’t stop finding 
the small wounds limned 
into focus: a tiny dog
 
in a boy’s arms, one leg 
dangled—a hook angling
toward the machine;

another boy cradling 
a stack of books, his head 
cropped by the frame;

a woman resting her hand 
on the chair’s arm; and how 
even the sun, bright

as the flash that whitens 
their faces, polishes 
the darker ones like stone.

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