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Sierra Nelson: “The First Photograph”

Over the next several weeks, we will feature Pushcart Prize-nominated work from recent issues of Poetry Northwest. First up: a poem from Sierra Nelson, one of our nominees for the 2014 Pushcart anthology.
640px-View_from_the_Window_at_Le_Gras,_Joseph_Nicéphore_Niépce

The First Photograph
+++Inspired by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce’s first image

Perihelion, closest to the sun. Heliography, the image.
Hasn’t there been a moment you never wanted to leave?
An outward listlessness, but inwardly lit, light-sensitive?

Previous tests revealed how a feeling, made
transparent, could be transferred to stones.
Hold still, we said to the trees, the slanting rooftops.
Uncap the lens and we are in France.

Through the pinprick it all came to us,
how close we were, upside down,
several hours on the windowsill.
We were surfaces arranged to receive.

The pewter plate revealed buildings turning into salt,
sliding away from themselves,
what we could see but did not know,
the graininess of the shadows.

Later we passed through many hands,
centuries.
We had to leave.

Yet I capture you. Close to the sun.
I coated my longing in bitumen.

SierraNelson_profileB&W_PhotobyRebeccaHoogsSierra Nelson’s recent books include a lyrical choose-your-own-adventure collaboration with visual artist Loren Erdrich, titled I Take Back the Sponge Cake (Rose Metal Press, 2012), and the chapbook In Case of Loss (Toadlily Press, 2012). Her new poems created to accompany ichthyologist Adam P. Summers’ photographs of stained fish skeletons will debut in an exhibition at the Seattle Aquarium in December 2013 through spring 2014.  She lives in Seattle.

“The First Photograph” first appeared in the Spring & Summer 2013 issue of Poetry Northwest.

Photo: View from the Window at Le Gras by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce. (public domain)

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