Lauren Wilcox’s poem “The Motion-Picture Principle” first appeared in our Summer 2004 issue. She has also been published in the Antioch Review and the Oxford American.
for Eadweard Muybridge
Your staggered lenses, trained on an empty track,
recorded what straggled into view
and out again, a dust cloud and a leaning pack
of horses. Silver decomposed to black
inside your boxes. You followed light—
you weren’t confused by motion—how an arc
could splinter, how something dropped
could fall in small and helpless stages, break,
and rise again, reassembling in air.
You watched your wife step from the bath
and knew that this, too, was a brief scene
repeating, a strip of naked women
dealt like a deck of cards. In the muffled street,
in winter, your plates darkened on a snow
that stuttered down again in springtime,
dim and slow, on a sheet hung in the garden.
Gray and halting faces approached
and backed away; a woman withdrew
through a shutting door.
Time was a string of knots, a spiked wheel,
a seam that you could split and heal—
As a boy, reclining on horsehair
one morning on a train,
you watched the countryside,
a single light-filled frame
in which lives flickered, drawn forward
like a train along a track; you saw yourself,
suspended in a fractured, endless motion,
going, never going back.