• squirm for the camera •

• squirm for the camera •
Scrounging for impressions,
to stock the mind,
fishing for ideas,
to swim about, and fill the heart,
to tickle the fancy with fishy wishes,
and glistening, underwater eyes,
I pole for slippery inspiration.
I bait my hook, and wait,
hopefully, happily, expectantly, here: the secret of success, in this,
is to bring an open net.

I do it well, without fail, and set upon
a sometimes sacred jaunt
of exploration, from within,
and also, from without, just here:
in my all-time favorite haunt:
the yet unsung, shining,
intellectual emporium
to be found, for me,
at none other than, the lovely,
dusty, crusty, musty, alcoves
of Poor Richard’s Quality Antiques.

Perusing the abandoned objects,
shelved in timelessness,
in the library of the dispossessed,
I reflect on their former owners,
and, picture, in my mind’s eye,
as best I can:
their timely, fragrant rose-hip hopes, for love–
their softly uttered,
steely, sacred vows–
their daily struggles,
their vanities, their victories,
their valiant trying to’s,
their inevitable, unavoidable, disparaging downs,
their disappointments,
their setbacks,
their frowns, suddenly, explicable.

As I suspect, it is easy to see
that times were much
the same for them, then,
as it is today, for me.
I have come see their continuing stories,
their unimaginable turns of events, as chapters, as I similarly,
see myself, figuratively speaking, conjoined with the hopeful-hearted,
–in time–and thereby,
being with them, in a way,
and, in a way, they, with me.

Here, and There,
clothed in empathy,
it comes to me, for I see
clearly that, perhaps, if I may say: these souls didn’t see themselves,
as old-fashioned, or as old,
in fact, or backward,
in any way, at all,
but as may be, as young, as modern, as positive, as powerful, to a degree,
as forward looking, blessed, and sublimely, timely, ‘called, by destiny’.
“But, why brag about,” I hear them say, “what is common to all?
Are we not all civilized?”
“Well, I have to say, if I may,
as to that, since you asked,
just between you and me…friends…
it is still a thing to be wished,
yet, is much today, as it was yesterday. I daresay,
it is as well as may be, which, it isn’t,
but, I am hopeful.”

Poring over the tintypes*
Lingering over faces
from the Victorian, ‘other seventies’.
Not a smile, among these somber posers, do I see, not a simmer,
not a glimmer of glee.
Not a single ‘say cheese!’
to be seen… Not that it was a sin,
back then, to wear a grin.
It seems to me, more likely
that it simply had never
occurred to them to grin, that a photograph was an occasion for grinning, for most of them.
(How obscene.)
Furthermore, it is not unreasonable to expect that most had not seen a single instance of themselves, rendered, in photography,
and were only minimally instructed: to “Please, HOLD STILL,”
and did so, mechanically,
stalwartly, woodenly,
awaiting further instructions,
and watching intently,
and listening.
Here, in these tintypes,
In everything, the Victorian ethic,
of stern propriety, of austerity,
of stifling sobriety,
is seen to be, everywhere, in there,
in these images, ever pervading,
except, for one thing…

One tintype, in particular,
which features three siblings,
catches my eye, and makes me grin.
Two older sisters in the front,
Wearing elaborate black silk dresses, and small, tastefully restrained, expensive black hats,
while, their evidently, younger,
littler brother, is straddling a high chair, precariously, strategically placed, behind, and between,
the sisters, severe, and
is silently, if comically,
bringing up the rear.

At a glance, it is immediately clear that their little brother, ‘the creature’,
not unlike like my young self,
at that age, despite rigorous admonitions, for the “sitting”,
for this photograph,
found it all but impossible,
to ‘sit still’: unbearably, immobilized, for a seeming lifetime–
five consecutive seconds–
and cannot, heaven help him,
bear to sit still, to save his life.
It is too painful to do, for him,
just as it was for me.
It is a calling, bubbling up, from
within, to be deeply,
devilishly, obnoxious, and to never comply, and to never, ever,
‘give in’.

He seems to wear two faces,
One angelic, and one, ecstatic!
His face is so out of focus,
I’ll bet the sisters,
Seeing the resulting botched photo
Would be have been immediately, thoroughly, and inextricably pissed
Not to say, scandalized,
but, to be blunt, the result, and the repercussions radiated for a time, and a time, and half a time,
within the immediate family,
and lent a whole new twist
to their indelible dual appellations,
for him, from that day, forth:
‘fuzzy-faced brother’,
and ‘little two-faced runt’.

I think I know, just how he feels.
In my mind, looking at his blurred visage, I can hear his righteous protestation, his screamed admonition, remonstration,
and his stance: “I told ’em, didn’t I!! not to make me wear!! those dreadful, awful, itchy, wooly pants!!”

No evident overexposure here,
for sure. I think that’s quite neat,
this life-sign, this boy,
this heartbeat.
He is, in my mind, so honest,
so very, deliciously, direct,
so self-respecting, so sincere.
I feel so pleased.
Ah, there it is, for me,
the reason appears, in all it’s newness, and in my memory,
and I am young again.
I can relate to this kid, who sees.
I see myself: as a kid, as I was,
standing, entrenched,
with fists clenched,
refusing the ridiculous.
Cheese, indeed, and (lying) smiles.
I remember it now! It’s come! Simply.
How I hated, that business,
with the cheese.
~ Tim Burchfield
2/2/14

*(A tintype, also known as a melainotype or ferrotype, is a photograph made by creating a direct positive on a thin sheet of iron coated with a dark lacquer or enamel and used as the support for the photographic emulsion. Tintypes enjoyed their widest use during the 1860s and 1870s, but lesser use of the medium persisted into the early 20th century and it has been revived as a novelty in the 21st.)

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