I Take Forty-Five Minutes to Shoot a Portrait of My Father

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My father standing here
now standing over there
now turning his patient face
first left and then right.

Tilting his bearded chin
according to my instruction.

Grinning at an old joke
I’ve raked up from our past
to crinkle his eyes
and soften his expression.

This posing is real work for him
but no complaints—
the old man is of a certain generation
and he understands effort
as a brand of broad currency
that can mean good faith
to business partners or employers
and to a lover can mean
that long-awaited shedding
of the selfishness
that shells us all in our youth.

Here it means a mere portrait
can transform into the words
I want but fail to speak.

Weeks later, when I finally
give him this print
matted and framed in barnwood
I will give to him himself
precisely the way I see him.

And the effort spent will read
like a personal inscription
scrawled not onto the back
of the photograph itself
as might be the custom
but directly into the soft meat
that makes my father’s heart.

 

Photo: LED Strobe Silhouette by Louish Pixel

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About Author

Justin Hamm is the author of a full-length collection of poems, Lessons in Ruin, and two poetry chapbooks. His work has appeared in Nimrod, The Midwest Quarterly, Cream City Review, Sugar House Review, and elsewhere. Recent work also been selected for New Poetry From the Midwest and The Stanley Hanks Memorial Poetry Award from the St. Louis Poetry Center.

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