As I Appear in the Photograph

by Toby Emert

“APR 1968,” blue-inked in the bottom-edge border of the paper frame: I must be four, my hair buzzed, ears protruding, fair-skinned and thin. The tip of my index finger in my mouth. I am squinting and barefoot. I am standing in the side yard. I have a white cloth knotted around my waist. It is translucent with the light piercing the well-washed cotton. It hangs loose and you can trace the shadow of my legs—like the stalks of winter weeds—as you finger the surface. Along the bottom of the cloth, I have clipped clothespins, the rusty hinges and rain-stained wood dangling against my shins. Earlier in the day, I knelt in the driveway and gathered dirt into fist-size lumps. I scooped sand into my hand and tightened my fingers against my palm. The sand ran in a stream when I turned my hand up, tickling as it splashed onto my bare belly. It was afternoon when you retrieved the camera, the one with the metal clicker and slender string that adjusted for the size of your wrist. You sat in the grass with the sun over your shoulder and called my name. You laughed when you looked through the lens. I whimpered and closed my eyes against the sharp light. “I will tell you when a cloud is coming,” you called to me. With my eyes closed, head tilted toward the ground, my shoulders felt the cool wave approaching before I heard your voice, “Your father will not love you like this.”

TOBY EMERT is an Associate Professor in the Department of Education at Agnes Scott College near Atlanta, Georgia, and also teaches courses on the arts and literacy in the graduate program in Creative Arts in Learning for Lesley University. In 2004, he won the Don Russ Poetry Prize from Kennesaw Review. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in journals such as The Connecticut Review, The Yalobusha Review, Hawai’i Pacific Review, Water-Stone Review, and Zone 3.