Wilson Alwyn Bentley, Circa 1910
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Their chief property: impermanence.
What one discovers must be
The chief challenges: scale and speed.
How to capture a single flake, magnify
it hundreds of times, be certain that
the intact image is burned onto
the large glass negative, all accomplished
in the dark of the blackout hood.
The primary goal: to create an image
clean and clear, free of motion when,
by nature, the flake is only motion.
He tries it hundreds of times,
the microscope, the camera,
the hot keg lights blasting hard.
Finally, the contradictions hold
and the ephemeral is captured.
When he makes a positive and drops
the paper into the developer,
he watches as winter itself emerges,
intricate and perfect.
Here is something we dreamed up,
a tired nation’s collective id:
old and orange and angry.
Here’s a leader that no one wants,
a one percent man, a greedy thing
that never ceases to devour.
Here is a cabinet full of horrors,
no surprise there, just plenty of
stupidity, rigidity, repetition.
Here’s a man not worth a cent, not worth
a pence, an old white pot to piss in,
narrow little man in a narrow little door.
Here is a church. Here is a steeple.
Open the doors and herd all of
the people into prison camps.
Here’s a nightmare we all had, a thing
we thought we’d escaped in our sleep.
Now it’s a waking killer, a wicked king.
The old barn tilts sharp to the right. All of the windows were taken or broken long ago –
boys with their bb guns and the quick thrill as each metal pellet cracked the fragile glass.
An owl often occupies the oval window near the barn’s peak – an oculus looking out
across the prairie. Feral cats used to fill the barn each spring, giving birth to their litters in
soft nests of rotting hay, but once the owl moved in, the cats scattered, their kittens too
often falling prey to the hungry bird. Strong winds rock the structure year-round. It won’t
take much to bend the barn into the ground, just one more thunderstorm, or a blizzard, the
heavy snow a weight no longer possible to resist.