She is a dirty smock, two legs planted into feet and toes I cannot clearly see. Wet collodion positive: she is glass plate inverted with the back face blackened. She is the daughter of a son, half the height of everybody else, she is a head of hair of clear on ground, dark from varnish and sandy from the sun. She is sight without eyes. She is quizzical. Her family is waiting for you to make the picture. Silver salts bloom in the darkness behind your aperture, down the barrel and plate-holder, even in the dusk of the crypta. Her face is indistinct. She turned during the exposure.
She is the mother of a daughter, alive, unseen. Perhaps she stepped to the side in mid-exposure. Or rather: she is a slip of your lens cover, your hat, for she does not seem to move. Stands instead, in the shadow, enclosed by rock, her skirt and earth-light the same in the black and the white of the picture. Her face in aggregate through the moonlike yellow tuff, the ancient stuff, the tufo, rising from the burning fields as lava and tephra and gas, settling onto the land so that it becomes the land. When you prepared your plate, you could not have known that the lunar caustic would bury her and make her eternal.
She is the lone light behind them and she is her town, Fuorigrotta, crossing under from out into Naples. Vanishing point on the remaining horizon, down the descending, telescoping tunnel. Her people have done this since the old passage was dug--
faults, comes away
in layers, and long
after you (not Virgil,
in one night, but the slaves
under the Augustan, Cocceius) are gone
the lines of their fracture
still trace horizontal scars
as she descends (different
servitude) towards the city.
Shou Jie Eng
This first appeared at Singapore Unbound.
Shou Jie Eng is an architectural designer, researcher, and writer, whose work examines the relationships between spaces, bodies, and the material histories and cultures of craft. He runs Left Field Projects, a studio practice located in Hartford, CT. His writing has been published or is forthcoming in Speculative Nonfiction, Ritual and Capital, CARTHA, and Paprika!, and his visual work has been shown at the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson, WY.
The Ekphrastic Review
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