Volume 21, Number 1

Camera Obscura

Taking pictures in the park
for a school contest, ’69,
I started with the treetops,
the wind visible there.
The sky an insane blue.

Suddenly a figure, dark,
coming towards me, snatched my
camera, black kid, towering rage,
pulled the film out like a long, mocking tongue,
then hurled it to the naked sun.

He tore a branch that bled old rain
from an oak. His arm clenched my throat,
his embrace weirdly intimate,
before tossing me to the earth, beat my
face, pushing the oak branch deep into my chest,

He cursed, I cursed, our words
whirled all mixed up,
white boy, nigger, fuck you,
his two brothers in Vietnam he said,
one dead, the other forced to clean a latrine
with his bare hands,
and half my friends shipped to that other world
in the pregnant belly of a plane.

He ripped my dollars out
and gave them to the wind,
then rained my change down on my head.
He wanted me to see
this was no mugging.

I cried, punched and clawed,
rolled over on top, then whirled back under,
we rolled and rolled, him, me, him,
screaming, trying to say, trying to hear the
words between the blows,
trying to say
the visible mystery of pain.

Then it was over.
We left by opposing paths
with nothing left
to forgive or to damn.

We’d been driven against each other
like leaves breaking against a wall,
while the endless storm raged on.

—Sean Lause