Photographing Paris

Eugene's Camera
The fin de siecle in the City of Light
sees life begin at forty for Atget
as he takes on a new profession
using techniques nearly as old as him.
He attracts no circle of followers
refuses to style himself 'artisan'

mapping the cobbled Parisian dawn
in search of juxtaposition
stairways, upturned street vendors' carts
unglamorous prostitutes, pedlars
the stillness of odd, aged architecture
angles, spaces awash with light.
He catalogues his beloved old city
a voyeur with a viewfinder, his mind
framing, preserving its vanishing history.
He makes 10,000 negatives, and a living
but earns little contemporary acclaim
his images' impassive beauty
a chronicle of a silently stated ache
a need to keep things once loved alive.

Dorman Engineering, 1970
A small sky then, beyond the roller door
wan morning light and these men wearing green
overalls, their names stitched in red over
beating hearts, who greet each other before

work. That welder, the heavy man who has
seen too much sorrow, his son will kidnap
a school bus. The lathe operator lights
a cigarette for breakfast, humming jazz.

He squints against smoke, ambition growing.
Does he dream of success, his growly blues
guitar? His mate, the sheetmetal worker,
thinks of the comfort of words, not knowing

that poems crowd his future. A bell shrieks,
machines whirr into action and these men
hunch over oiled steel hating the time and
motion study expert whose shined shoes creak.

The unprimed paint on our office peels
its colour, opulent when new, now haggard.
When I open the leadlight door
it smells of herbal mothballs
silverfish the inheritors of beloved books.
The loft, once a teenagers' postered room
houses your cobwebbed magazines.

If future archaeologists examine
the turquoise tiles on our kitchen floor
like those excavated Roman villas
the tesserae of our hectic days
shall be revealed, the chips and pits
from broken plates, glasses, promises.
The way we live will have been our life.

At night I bolster myself to read in bed
using that hand-made cushion, the one
with scenes of different dances, bought
when we used to dash around garage sales.
Who would have imagined its survival
while other items were discarded by habit
during this time since we last danced?

I love the tango. Her vivid red dress
faded now to dusky rose, her thigh split
once sensual, abraded by constant wear.
My head rests luxuriantly on her legs.
Her partner's look could suggest desire
that will never die, his serious brow
as dark as when the air smells of storms.

The hallway clock runs too fast, hangs askew.
Time tilts off-centre like a sad drunk
despite my anal perpendicular corrections.
Intolerance is still one of my many flaws.
The pine panelling we chose has mellowed
honey-coloured now, the way we had hoped.
We never did complete the task of sealing it.

PoetIan C. Smith lives in the Gippsland Lakes region of Victoria. His work has appeared in The Best Australian Poetry, Cordite, The Sleepers Almanac, Slow Trains, and Westerly. His most recent book is Memory like Hunger (2006), and Lost Language of the Heart will be published in 2010, both by Ginninderra.

Topic tags: new australian poems, ian c. smith, Eugene's Camera, Dorman Engineering, 1970, Tango



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