The Summer Archivist

By  |  February 24, 2016
“deconstructing the process,” by Butch Anthony “deconstructing the process,” by Butch Anthony

The summer that I turned nineteen
And felt grown-up in love,
I took a job as an archivist
Sifting through a trove

Of photographic negatives
From old insurance claims
And portrait studios: a million
Faces sans the names,

The white tire-marks of mangled cars,
Rooms washed away with fire
Or crisp with flood, and then the odd
Event like the premiere

Of Gone with the Wind—we had to file
Each image we could see
Under person, place, or thing.
Were accidents all three?

Sometimes we sleeved stale evidence:
The body’s silhouette 
Haloed on a motel floor
Near a lit cigarette.

And then there were the wedding shots.
I catalogued each groom
Arrayed in tailored light, each gray-haired
Bride in weeds of gloom:

Her irises were milky, blind,
Her gaze was like a hole,
The roses in her hand were ash,
Her diamond ring was coal.

But these were just the revenants,
The brittle shades of love,
I lifted like X-rays to the light
In a pale latex glove,

The summer I turned archivist
And filed the past away
For some frown-lined researcher
On some far winter day.


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A. E. Stallings grew up in Decatur, Georgia, studied classics in Athens, Georgia, and now lives in Athens, Greece. A MacArthur fellow, her most recent collection is Olives. Her verse translation of Lucretius, The Nature of Things, has been reissued in hardback by Penguin Classics.