On an Old Photograph of My Son

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This page last updated on 07/08/2017.

Copyright 2001-2017 by Russ Meyer


It's 1974 again, and he's back once more.  Smirking,
a pair of coveralls over a white tee-shirt,
no shoes.  His hair, Long and blond, falls
to his shoulders like his mother's did
back then, and like one of those young Greek
heroes I was just reading about.  But
there the resemblance ends.  On his face
the contemptuous expression of the wise guy,
the petty tyrant.  I'd know that look anywhere.
It burns in my memory like acid.  It's
the look I never hoped I'd live to see
again.  I want to forget that boy
it the picture - that jerk, that bully!

What's for supper, mother dear?  Snap to!
Hey, old lady, jump, why don't you?  Speak
when spoken to.  I think I'll put you in a
headlock to see how you like it.  I like
it.  I want to keep you on
your toes.  Dance for me now.  Go ahead,
bag, dance.  I'll show you a step or two.
Let me twist your arm.  Beg me to stop, beg me
to be nice.  Want a black eye?  You got it!

Oh, son, in those days I wanted you dead
a hundred - no, a thousand - different times.
I thought all that was behind us.  Who in hell
took this picture, and
why'd it turn up now,
just as I was beginning to forget?
I look at your picture and my stomach cramps.
I find myself clamping my jaws, teeth on edge, and
once more I'm filled with despair and anger.
Honestly, I feel like reaching for a drink.
That's a measure of your strength and power, the fear
and confusion you still inspire.  That's
how mighty you once were.  Hey, I hate this
photograph.  I hate what became of us all.
I don't want this artifact in my house another hour!
Maybe I'll send it to your mother, assuming
she's still alive somewhere and the post can reach
her this side of the grave.  If so, she'll have
a different reaction to it, I know.  Your youth and
beauty, that's all she'll see and exclaim over.
My handsome son, she'll say.  My boy wonder.
She'll study the picture, searching for her likeness
in the features, and mine.  (She'll find them, too.)
Maybe she'll weep, if there are any tears left.
Maybe - who knows? - she'll even wish for those days
back again!  Who knows anything anymore?

But wishes don't come true, and it's a good thing.
Still, she's bound to keep your picture out
on the table for a while and make over you
for a time.  Then, soon, you'll go
into the big family album along with the other crazies -
herself, her daughter, and me, her former husband.  You'll be
safe in there, cheek to jowl with all your victims.  But don't
worry, my boy - the pages turn, my son.  We all
do better in the future.

                   - Raymond Carver