The Photographer of Snowflakes

Steve McOrmond

A gift of Island poetry | curated by Deirdre Kessler

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As a boy, he tried to sketch them,
but his pencil couldn’t scurry fast enough
before the designs melted or sublimed in air.
He wanted to hold them in his mind
but they were already losing resolution.

Later, he would stand for hours
in the cold with a bellows camera
mated to a microscope, waiting
for the first snowflakes to commence
their twitchy, wind-tossed descent.

His subjects didn’t like to pose;
with the feathers of a severed turkey wing,
he’d coax them gently, gently under the lens.
Conditions had to be just right: too warm
and their uniqueness would dissolve
before his eyes, too cold and they’d shatter.

Some winters, he’d capture only a handful.
Other years, they’d come all in a flurry.
His life’s work, five thousand intimate portraits,
the glass plates rejected by the Smithsonian,
sold for five cents apiece. He died – I swear

I couldn’t make this up – of pneumonia
after walking home six miles through a blizzard.
If you’re going to die, why not in a storm
of devotion, after looking long and hard,
that the bits of pure beauty might be seen.

Even if it’s a myth that there are
no two alike, I choose to believe it.
You have to believe in something.

Have you ever watched a dog
playing in fresh snow? It’s of this
particular happiness I speak.
The sky gives it away for a song.

—Steve McOrmond, Reckon (Brick Books), 2018.

Deirdre Kessler selects a poem a month by an Island poet for The Buzz.

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