A PHOTO OF BORIS

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.
And Boris. 
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.

One comment on “A PHOTO OF BORIS

  1. Christine Moore says:

    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.

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