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Poetry Prize

Stephanie Bolster, "Long Exposure"

All this week, we're publishing the five poems selected as finalists for the 2011-2012 CBC Poetry Prize.

In Stephanie Bolster's "Long Exposure," the post-Hurricane Katrina photographs of Robert Polidori inspire thoughts of what's lost and what's left behind. 


Long Exposure

(after Robert Polidori’s photographs
after Hurricane Katrina)

The snapshot is of a moment that will never occur again, and the long exposure is of a moment that never occurred to begin with.

 —Robert Polidori, paraphrasing Dieter Appelt

He didn’t move the dress. 
Moved himself to make the dress
the centre of regret.

He saw it, so we see.

The world in the form of a storm 
sent them out of the room. 
They ran for their lives. They ran 
with their lives. They lost 
their lives or left their lives 
to fill with water and wind
or peel from the walls.

What they think of the room, if 
they think of it, if they have lived
to think of it, doesn’t look like
this. Just ordinary
voices, TV, coffee.

The passport, the press pass, 
the packed bags, the cab ride,
the check-in, the bag tag, the wait.
The gate, the seat, the take-off.
Ice or no ice. The napkin.
The bing, the buckle released, the icon for baggage.
The bag, more battered. The wait, the cab, the ride.
The name and the PIN.
The card in the door. 
The room with a bed. The light and the sink.
The rest. The drive to the room.
The room no one’s in but the one who’s come
all this way to be in the room. 

He went inside and with no power
to plug into he kept the shutter open long enough
for the light there was to seal
the scene of what there was.

What’s left is not what was
minus what’s gone.

Until he presses, nothing happens.
When he presses, the nothing affixes. 
Prints are made of it.
We walk into rooms of walls and look
into the rooms on walls.

The larger the negative, the more.
In the print of the wreck of a room
(smaller than the room, larger than
the mind) are things we wouldn’t have seen
had we been there.

The opening: stemless glasses
full of what would stain if spilled.

The chatter: This red, how did he get this red.
Or: This mold is baroque.

Or rooms they would not utter.
They might go home and hold each other.

Not real art because he just looked.
Because someone asked for it. (Because
a magazine.) Because someone paid for it. 
Because he didn’t move anything. Because he didn’t 
make anything. Because many
saw it. Because there was an opening. 
Because he didn’t live there.
Because it really happened.

It wasn’t supposed to happen.
It keeps happening.
(The napalm girl running, screaming.)
The room breathing in breathing out.
It is happening again.

Back on his own dime.
He opens the door of a house fraught with water. 
The smell of what it carried rampant.
(Soon the bulldozers.)
A mirror seeped of its reflection.
A dead dog, a dead fridge.
He vomits again.
Opens the shutter and waits.
A kitchen scale wavers.
(In the room he slept in, the mattress,
stripped, bares its old stains.
In the bar fridge, an orange, 
drying. Set out beside the sink, 
a razor, a canister of pent-up froth.)
Next door is another door. 

Does he imagine us
seeing it? Or himself
seeing it again?

As though rooms knew what would become of them,
as though they were skins or had skins or eyes or felt
anything, as though
a dog wandered through and howled and the walls responded
and we were the dog, the thing that trespassed
but the only one there to notice was us.

Would the one who lived there
recognize it on a wall?

Before it was a scene it was a self.

ARTINFO, September 23, 2006

«Read the other shortlisted entries

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