On Making Poems

by janeeatonhamilton

On Saturday, I had set aside the afternoon to write a poem for my new gal-pal, and instead, the day produced two other poems.  Two poems in one day is extraordinary output for this accidental-poet who can go years (perfectly content years) without writing a single one, and so I was happy even though they weren’t either what the doctor ordered (which was a sweet bit of romantic puffery I could then magic marker onto the skin of my lover).

One I’ve provisionally called “War Poem” and is taken from a photograph of two Angolan boys I saw online, one of whom has had a leg amputation.  It niggled at me I think not because of his tragedy–although, god knows, that is what originally drew me to the shot–but because he had a tiny brother at his side gazing up at him with such sheer, unconsidered devotion it made me catch my breath.

The other poem is different, a bit of rant, actually, on the years I spent taking photographs for an organization called Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep (Colorado-based).  They offer bereavement photography, which is a euphemistic way of saying photos of ill, dying and deceased babies.  I was one of a cadre of volunteers to travel into labour and delivery rooms, into hospital wards, into hospices in the still of the night to make these shots.  These are photographs for parents who’ve had no opportunity to have other photographs made, and, quite often, as I shot, in these hushed or busy-with-family rooms, these infants would die, so that between one click of the shutter and the next, a life had been snuffed out.  Sometimes right as I was making a very close-up image of the child’s eyelashes wet with tears.  Sometimes as I was photographing a little one in her mama’s arms, with her other kids reaching towards them.

We took plenty of flak, we photographers, for shooting moments like these.  People thought us macabre and cracked.  And in my poem, I take exception to that.  The poem doesn’t depict any one family in particular, but took one of the simplest and most heartbreaking situations I encountered–the middle-of-the-night, parents-only-vigil–and commented on why it was important to be there, to mark it, to help them count the moment when life stutters and fails.
Here is a photograph I made then:

The Lovely Boy