The Dark Room
The safe-light leaks moist red into the darkness.
Bach sings his magic hills, the door says
Keep out. Balancing light and time, strengthening solutions,
patience, love of solitude—but in the end one must become
a swimmer somersaulting beneath clear green water.
We'd spent the week in Marrakash, Mother,
my three sisters, and I. At dawn a driver came
to take us to the airport in Rabat. The night was cold,
charcoal palm trees sketched against a star-punched paper.
"You have time to see the Camel Souk," the driver said,
"But your mother and crippled sister should wait
inside the car with me. Camels and horses
ridden to show their speed and strength to buyers
can be dangerous." So Mother and Nonnie
walked with us only as far as the stone wall
that encircled the souk.
I had the driver take this picture there,
we five posed against the rough stone wall,
a family. Nonnie can barely hold up
her head; she died with Mother six months later,
but you can see the camera loved her eyes.
Caught in the flash, they're slightly bugged,
the lashes long and thick. Behind her
a boy's head projects above the wall,
one arm flung high. Nonnie's laughing,
although she never walked into the souk,
never passed through that opening on her crooked legs,
but turned back to the car to wait with mother
while we three went on alone.
As we entered, the sun rose.
The enclosure held night to the wall's height,
a great cup filled to the brim with dark water,
while all above it glittered.
I loaded my camera with black and white film and snapped
items of extreme romance, a flashing eye,
a flowing mane, camels standing on three legs,
the fourth bent and tied;
boys galloping bareback, djellabas folded beneath slender legs.
The drumming of oiled hooves raised
volcanoes of white dust that towered in the dawn-fresh air.
Animals ran at us, a dangerous thunder we ran
blindly to escape. The sun plunged daggers of light
into our frightened eyes. The stout smooth men, buying and selling,
laughing at foreign women, had the air of doing
God's work in the cold Moroccan dawn.
I place this negative into the enlarger's carrier
and turn the timer to fifteen seconds.
That black and diamond dawn facets the darkroom briefly
then fades, leaving only the safe-light, the sounds of
dripping water and Bach.
I transfer the paper to the developing tray.
Nonnie's eyes meet mine, blooming
coins of light and warm black lines.
Her face ripples as though the water
were a chiding hand. Her mouth's not dark enough.
The second photo lurches into being
like a shocked breath. It grows in increments.
No matter how I try, I never see
the exact point in time when the picture deepens
and comes together, when crawling lines create
a nose, a mouth, a wall.
There is a moment in the darkroom
when the ability to see what really happened
opens like an eye in darkness.
Leaning over trays, images crawl into your soul
so black, so blackly beautiful,
so strongly, richly black. Against it
eyes flare across the field like tiny spotlights,
like sequin-threaded moonlight, and everywhere
those rising towers of pale dust.
Back in the car I said
It wasn't much. And I said,
the field's too rough.
And I said, we'll come back some day,
You'll see it next time.