: our concern addressed to Mendel Grossman, 1941

Rebecca Gayle Howell

Light, white enough to take over. Imperial light. Erasing hairlines, an ear, the edge of teeth,

the edge of skin, the edge of skin to skin, sky. The film’s large grain, summoned into bodies

by the dim eye of your permitted camera, now unauthorized. But this is not ekphrasis:

They called you the statistics man, the record keeper; you were made to shoot

mugshots for I.D.’s. Did they think in the after-hour you’d go blind? Instead,

the breadmaker’s stooped shoulders. Toddlers running to the gate. Women, aging.

You were shameless. The camera they gave you, hidden under your long coat.

The coat unbuttoned, click. The everyday ghetto, carts and shovels, now shadows,

now movement, blurred. Each night, you returned the day’s negatives to the dark,

your nails brown and brittle from midnight chemicals. You did not sleep. At dawn —

the shutter, release. Isn’t this Bresson’s decisive moment? The exit that opens

when one person looks another in the eye? When you dressed in the dank morning,

bringing the camera strap around, securing the machine to your chest like a bomb,

what did you know? That you had to? I never had to do anything. Would I know it, if I did?


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