Graduation Photo

Sunlight shafts through the late primaveral air
As you stand, looking back, on the stair.
It lights in your hair on the perfect hair part
Where your skin has the whiteness of fish. It drowns
In the bronze of your face, in the pitch of your eyes,
Where glints and flashes of it dart below.
A triangle of it shines on your fortified bust.
A curve of it graces your buttocks supple and full.
A facet of it lies on your ankle bone
Whose delicate movements are mankind’s undoing.

You smile as if you could guess what Foggerson knows
And will not, for fear of spoiling the pose, declare:
That the pleats in your skirt will never need ironing,
That your bracelet bangles will jingle no more,
That the cashmere sweater over the good foundation
Will never come off again for any reason
Or show any signs of wear, that your natural teeth
In their natural box will never chatter or tarnish.
In the midst of life we are in death:
The death’s head shows through the Cupid’s bows.

So smile till we know how much of your skull is teeth.
Foggerson sees you always, just as you are,
Though you lose all recollection of him
And droop, sag, whiten, and settle in dust.
He is not even part of your shadow, but only in him
Will you be perfect, this moment, here. Now go
And still smile. Smile till the lines in your face
Deepen and set in a conventional scowl.
Scowl down the years till the years
Are frozen and you can no longer dissemble:
Before this you were nothing, and nothing after.

But along with it all, and more than it all, this You—
The hope, the longing, the fulfillment—
Smiling not because anyone prodded you to,
But lips parted in joy of expectation,
As if just at this moment came to you
The invisible shuttle that slithers through the years,
Threading the furthest stars,
Aimed at you, for once, now whirling in you.
Quick, now, it’s going to be
A good one—there, you’ve done it together.
On Foggerson’s black plate you will live forever.

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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 4 Number 3, on page 32
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