In this one, helping my son up the stairs,
you are hunched over in that way adults must
to reach a toddler's hand, a miniature ball of sun
reflecting in your lens. Less contrast in photo
than in flesh, developer's choice, I suppose,
between a sky suffused with light,
my pale son, the rich burgundy of your jacket,
and the deep brown earthtones of your skin.
His hand stretches up in yours; he labors for the step.
Your head cocks toward him, mouthing encouragement.
Three times a week, six hours, I know you in passing exchanges.
We speak in a weird falsetto, high-pitched Mommy voices:
"Good morning," "I have to go now, sweetie, bye-bye."
Is it only wishful thinking that makes me like you,
desperation of need?
Once, I picked him up as your shift was ending;
you were walking ahead up the street.
It was your birthday, and I wished I'd known,
but now you were too far away for me to call,
balloons bobbing in rhythm to your gait.
And always, I think, it will be like this --
you a receding figure once I arrive,
as both of us together were too many, somehow.
The fantasy, to split myself into me and you,
and never have to choose.
And so I learn, over and over, the lesson of separation.
The slip into a pool of one's making--
a quiet darkroom, alone, to bar the door,
allow no witness to the developing
but what hints may come through in the final product,
this portrait, knowing it's a pale substitute, really:
how love may be realized at a distance, imperfectly