Unknown, Circa 1910
In a photo from a salvaged dresser,
a teacher scarcely older than her pupils stands, rigid
behind an empty chair, alongside older boys in jackets and ties by the back door
of a one-room schoolhouse, small girls in pinafores and dresses, so few girls,
on the right by the main. All are white. Nearly all stare earnestly forward
with somber faces, only one, head cocked, hand on a friend’s shoulder, invites
with a smile, only one gazes aside at the ground, white bow double the size of her head,
in a pinafore as white and pristine as the years
yet to come,
so like her own oversized bow—a four-year-old
on a settee. A serious face, the one I always knew. She never
seemed a carefree soul. She lost so many children before
my uncle was born, then my aunt, then my mother.
(I learned early to be seen and not heard.)
at the top of the photo in the cropped window panes,
the straight, slim bole of an elm unbroken by low branches
canopies above these students who see past me, all but that girl,
who see the camera, perhaps the schoolyard, the tree, which may live still
beyond the frame, even then so much older than these children
whose lives flamed and guttered long ago. Clear in the reflection.
At once I hold hundreds of years of future and what is past in my hand.
Elaine Wilburt’s fiction and poems have appeared or are forthcoming in various online and print journals including Puerto del Sol, Broad River Review, Uppagus and Heart of Flesh, among others. She lives in Maryland with her family, for whom she bakes 8-12 loaves of bread per week and countless other treats.
The Ekphrastic Review
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