Juan Felipe Herrera's "I Am Merely Posing for a Photograph"
I’m cheating a little bit this week. Juan Felipe Herrera isn’t a Midwestern writer, although he did earn his Masters of Fine Arts degree from the University of Iowa. He’s Californian, the son of migrant farm workers. But he is our country’s current poet laureate, and in that sense, belongs to all of us. Also, he’s coming here this week, to Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. On Thursday, April 28th, he’ll be reading from his work at the Alice Campbell Alumni Center Ballroom in Urbana.
The speaker in this poem, “I Am Merely Posing for a Photograph,” seems to have endured some trial—a grueling journey, maybe—and the repetition of the word “rubble” makes it seem as if he sees all the world as a ruin, though he goes on to doubt his own vision. The poem is full of loss and longing.
Here is “I am Merely Posing for a Photograph,” from Juan Felipe Herrera's Half the World in Light, published by the University of Arizona Press.
I am merely posing for a photograph.
Remember, when the Nomenclature
stops you, tell them that—“Sirs, he was posing
for my camera, that is all.” . . . yes, that may just work.
clear, hazel like my father’s, gaze across the sea, my hands at my side, my legs spread apart in the wet sands, my pants crumpled, torn, withered, my shirt in rags, see-through in places, no buttons, what a luxury, buttons, I laugh a little, my tongue slips and licks itself, almost, I laugh, licks itself from side to side, the corners of my mouth, if only I could talk like I used to, giggle under moonlight, to myself, my arms destitute, shrunken, I hadn’t noticed, after so many years sifting through rubble stars, rubble toys, rubble crosses, after so many decades beseeching rubble breasts—pretend I came to swim, I am here by accident,
My face to one side.
Listen to gray-white bells of rubble, the list
goes on—the bones, hearts, puffed intestines,
stoned genitalia, teeth, again I forget how
to piece all this together, scraps, so many scraps,
lines and holes.
The white gray rubble light blinds me,
wait, I just thought—what if this is not visible,
what if all this is not visible.
Listen here, closely:
I am speaking of the amber thighs
still spilling nectar on the dust fleece across Gaza,
the mountains, the spliced wombs across Israel, Syria.
The amber serums cut across all boundaries,
they smell incense, bread, honey—the color
of my mother’s hands, her flesh, the shrapnel is the same color
the propellers churn.
From Half the World in Light by Juan Felipe Herrera. The Arizona Board of Regents ©2008. Reprinted by permission of the University of Arizona Press.