My Father's Photographs
Anne Whitehouse

My father took beautiful pictures
of my sisters and me when we were children—
with his Hasselblad, his Rolleiflex,
his Leica, his Minolta, his Kodak.

He developed film and made prints
in his makeshift darkroom in the basement
next to the laundry sink and washing machine,
below the pegboard hung with tools.

There he installed a long table with a trough
of galvanized steel that drained into the waste line.
With a hose he ran water from the sink,
and there he put trays of chemicals—
developer, stop bath, fixer.

He set up the enlarger, hung the safelight,
covered the slits of light under the doors
with black oilcloth, and in the cool darkness
he spent hours away from us, absorbed in us.

I have his eight-by-ten-inch prints
scanned into my computer—
In one, I see a dreamy, pensive girl,
sitting up straight on a stool,
hands folded in her lap, hair combed
back and held with a barrette.

In another, I stand next to my sister
with my doll in my arms, smiling
in front of the carport’s cinderblock wall.
In my favorite, my next sister,
a toddler, welcomes the last sister,
a newborn just home from the hospital.

My father’s pictures record his devotion
to us. Later, when things went wrong,
his photography became intrusive,
hostile, no longer a gesture of love.

Instead of posing us with care in natural light
and rendering us in subtle black-and-white,
he lurked on the sidelines of family gatherings,
hiding behind his lenses, which he thrust
in front of our faces, startling us
aggressively with the blinding flash.

Those are the pictures I will not scan—
where we appear paralyzed and stunned
like animals trapped in front of headlights
on a dark country road at night.

Anne Whitehouse

is the author of five poetry collections—The Surveyor’s Hand, Blessings and Curses, Bear in Mind, One Sunday Morning, and The Refrain—as well as a novel, Fall Love. She is pleased and grateful that this issue marks her fifth appearance in riverbabble. She was born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama, graduated from Harvard and Columbia, and lives in New York City.

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