Although I am a huge fan of new technology and applaud its impact on our lives for the most part, I was saddened to learn awhile ago that the Polaroid camera is not being made anymore. It prompted me to write this poem.
“And so they are forever returning to us, the dead.”
--W. G. Sebald (from The Emigrants)
My father, his Polaroid camera in hand
actually said “cheese” and the machine
whirred, expelling a print, negative
still attached. He checked his watch, shaking
the covered snapshot as if it was
a thermometer and then
at the right moment
with a surgeon’s delicate hands,
picture and negative separated
in a single motion, revealing
who knew what?
Mystery clung to each impending image,
the camera conjuring up pictures of what was
right before our eyes,
right before our eyes.
Taking turns holding memory
as it eased into focus
reflecting our imperfectability,
reminding us by contrast
of our humanity.
Glossy talismans in unreal colors
as ephemeral as breath on glass.
Now, after six decades, the SX-70
is gone, despite incredulous shutterbugs
mourning its demise, posting pleas
Digital cameras allow us to discard
whatever we decide is
not quite right, unlike the power
of Polaroid to salvage forgotten lives
and the finality of a blemish.
Just like the remains of an Alpine climber
frozen until a glacier released him after 72 years—
a few polished bones and a pair of hobnailed boots,
the Polaroid may return
having migrated behind the refrigerator or
forgotten, clipped to the back of the Buick’s sun visor—
a grave eloquence,
startling in its honesty.