Old diaries have their uses: they remind you
That where you went, and who you met, and who
You hoped to meet, were never set in stone.
These things that happened once were just appointments,
And when the scribbled hopes were put behind you,
You turned the page and there was something new.
The days were filled, and you were not alone,
Despite the no-shows and the disappointments.
Look back upon the pages: they are prayers
To a god of daily life, brief pencilled mixtures
Of thrill or secrecy, routine or dread.
But what now moves you, catching you unawares,
Are not these social choices, but the fixtures:
Those sacred dates, the birthdays of the dead.
I once wrote of our chance lives and their meeting
As the joining of tributary streams, as though
A river, moving on to its unknown destination
Brought a determination in its mingled waters
Like a promise from an equally unknown source.
Where to? Where from? are questions the river itself
Can never answer at the moment of its passing.
Its swirling and gathering are compelled by confluence
Till its levels turn fields to a fine stubble
And cows stand on their nervous reflections.
So it is with these photographs slipped into
An album that pursues a name or a place
And leaves hanging the lines of adventure
(A removal to another continent, a marriage)
And the mysterious hiatuses within the dynasty.
Lives are interwoven, meeting and crossing
And passing, like a stuff that might roll on for ever,
Great heavy bolts of it, patterned with kinship
And the chosen colours of daily family life,
Until the sharp shears meet within it.
Completing one album and starting another
Joins blood and requires a back-story
That would probably go on repeating itself
With all those surprising things to look forward to:
The pages that began with a baby end with a mother.
Four generations back, when the photographs begin,
The jaw or the stare, or the certain line of the hair,
Confirm the identity of those who knew they would be
Strangers to us, whose ghosts they saw glimmering
In the attentive eyes of the photographer.
Future observers seemed as theoretical and unlikely
As the columns and pastoral backdrops of the studio,
Hardly an expected consequence of the expensive occasion
Which stopped time dead in its polished chamber
With attendant flowers, like a funeral.
But they guessed they were time-travellers, and adjusted
Their expressions accordingly with a serene self-assurance.
Or that blanker look which disguised their fear of failure
With mistrust of the world which chose to observe them.
There they are, offerings of a kind. Frail heroes of light.