A PHOTO OF BORIS
They posed him against a background of drapery,
stood him on the seat of a chair with curved arms.
His hair was parted and neatly combed.
He wore a dark jacket with two rows of buttons,
dark button-trimmed trousers, and sturdy shoes.
They put a hoop—-larger than himself—-around his neck.
The fingers of one hand curled around it.
In the other, he held a short stick of the sort
used by bigger boys to turn a hoop along a road.
His expression was serious, puzzled, maybe alarmed:
Why do they want me standing here, with a hoop around my neck?
On the back, a line of my Grandmother’s illegible scrawl
—I think in German—-and one word, set apart: “Boris.”
There is no Boris in the family tree.
The photo was attached with dots of glue
to a page in a cheap photo album
discovered in a box in a closet
among my mother’s things.
It was Grandma’s.
Perhaps Mother never looked at it.
She never showed it to us.
The cover was broken, the pages crumbling.
I know how paper can decay.
I pried all the photos out.
Most were not labeled.
Grandma knew who they were:
People in the Old Country around a table,
people haying on the farm in East Germany
where Johann ended up after the war,
a uniformed man who might be the German cousin
who went down with his ship in 1945.
Only a few were labeled— Onkel Herman,
Onkel Hans’s wife, Pa and Frieda.
I thought to toss it with the unlabeled photos—
the sort of nameless photos that pile up,
that we pass on endlessly.
But I cannot discard Boris.
What was he doing there, in Grandma’s album,
with Johann and August and Wanda,
Great-grandfather Joseph, Tante Helen,
and Grandma herself, stout in her printed dress,
standing with the nameless Sunday School teachers
in front of the Cleveland Lutheran Church.
Oh, I wouldn’t be able to throw him away either. He’s precious whoever he was. I have such a collection as you have – from my mother’s father’s mother who came over from Sweden at 14. Pictures with no names. People who we were likely related to. Friends. Neighbors. Lost now.