An open access publication of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences
Spring 2004

On a photograph by Mike Disfarmer

Richard Howard

George and Ethel Gage with mother Ida Gage and their first five children: Loretta, Ida, baby Ivory, Jesse, & Leon

photograph from a glass-plate negative by Mike Disfarmer, 1939
               for Dorothy Gallagher

Rubrum, calla, tiger, day
in the beauty of the lilies I was born
in Arkansas, fifth
of a perished tribe. Others have yet
to arrive, but here and now
I am in the middle, Baby Ivory
speaking, though you might
wonder about words from an infant
evidently sound asleep
if not actually dead. And you’d be right:
the stillness held by
all the other people in the pose
is just the mortal humdrum
of a hot August morning in Heber Springs,
but that baby looks
out of nature for good–could this be
one of those Mourning Pictures,
everyone gussied up for the tiny corpse
to remember them in heaven in their Sunday best? No,
just a family portrait–
Baptists don’t bury their babies barefoot. But
how such a mere lump,
even if alive on old Ida’s
hardly luxuriant lap,
could be answerable for such palaver . . .

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