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Syndic Literary Journal

The Photo of Emily

Narrated by Bill Wolak

New Jersey



She wore a cloche hat

She was Aunt Emily

She spoke French She had a job

as a French governess

She stood on the bridge in Bronxville

over the Bronx River the little river

with its little woods and the little bridge

and the swimming hole and the woods

where we played Robin Hood

I thought I was Robin Hood

or one of his deerskin men

I wanted a deerskin suit

more than anything

I remember that clearly when I was eight

I stayed awake at night

thinking how to make it how to get it

I would have robbed a rich traveler

(That’s how rebels are born)

She stood on the bridge in her hat

I came to her from the woods

where I had been playing

by the little brown river

with its dirty crayfish

I came up to her

In her long lace dress and black pumps

She had elegant feet

long feet

an ‘aristocrat’s’ she would say

She was a bit mad and compulsive

Even then I knew it

She was Catholic in a mad way

as if she had some special connection

with the Pope

She thought of herself as a writer

as having something special to say

in French

I thought of her as my French mother

She was my mother’s French sister

the sister who’d been born in France

the family so mixed up

between Portugal and France

and the Virgin Islands

which was the route my mother’s family took

to the United States

and Coney Island where the French kept


and my mother met my father

when he came from Lombardy

speaking only Lombard

and ended up the first night

in that boarding house at Coney

My French mother Emily stands on the bridge

in the old photo

in the only photo I have of her

A dark bridge and her face in shadow

Or perhaps her face was light once

and the photo darkened

There is a pearly strangeness

In the dark light

It is all I have of her

She must had had a box camera that day

I was wearing short pants

on that little stone bridge

(And who took the picture

of the two of us together

arms around each other?

So silent the old picture –

If it could only speak!)

It is her day off in the Nineteen Twenties

I am nine –

Where now

that elegant cloche hat

that woman lost in time

a shadowy strangeness is all

She had fine skin

gossamer hair

cut like Garbo

or Louise Brooks

but not so very beautiful

She had a wen on her breast

Might I not find that hat

and hat woman still –

a seamstress in the back

of some small thrift shop –

Come back, come back –

At least the photo

might I not at least

find the photo again

in some lost album

with black cardboard pages

there’s the photo

held on the stiff page

by little paper triangles pasted on

the photo of Emily

mad and elegant

thinking herself a great writer

with something to say to the world

in her shadow hat

having her picture taken

with the child she always wanted

She had lovers but no child

She stood by the bedside and took me

Life went on with us

The photo darkened

She was too distracted

too gypsy-like too self-willed

too obsessed too

passionately articulate

burning too bright

too much a lunatic of loving

to keep that child

who ran off finally

into the dark park of those days

by the Bronx River

and sees her now

nowhere else in memory

except by that dark bridge

And saw her never again

And never saw her again

except in the back of old boutiques

peered into now again

with haunting glance

in the Rue de Seine



Compiled/Published by LeRoy Chatfield
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