Issue 18 – Spring 2010 – Jason Labbe

Jason Labbe


Dear Photographer

I agree with the critic. Holding the photo’s face up to a window so the image turns as though to say what’s written on the back is old practice. Every autumn the maples here brighten with my disbelief. What’s beautiful is not always concerned with being the first. 

Whether or not I wrote them does not matter. Whatever they said. I apologize for the fourteen letters I did not send, though notice in both postcards these mountains are beautiful—dramatic, yet rounded off so as not to be severe. I am tracking the sun’s path, which is not to say the season. There are other ranges, and deserts, between this desk and your new darkroom, the California that keeps you. I have only passed through. I will never sit by your window looking out over huge jagged rocks and the sea. Or walk, or swim, into view.

The farther south I live from the city where we met and slept the more clearly I hear you cursing at a man I no longer resemble. Whether or not I was that man does not matter. There was no other woman or another woman. We are friends who agree to upgrade the facts, to shade our nostalgia. We introduce a comfortable silence like a warm yellow light to nights we rode the J Train over the bridge. We call this affection. 

Tomorrow. Send a self-portrait in color from your new studio. On the back I will type my name.


Dear Photographer

In the living room hangs the print I bought from the gallery that represents you. Rather than pay the framer to mat and mount it behind conservation glass, I have tacked up #3 in the edition of four. Afternoon sun covers the wall. It carries so much of the city. The model, this woman, your friend—her repose opens me. The green bed sheets could be no other color, the yellow dress to her ankles no other length. I cannot protect the edges from the fingers of curious guests, nor can I keep your someday-famous way of lighting from the light I doze in.

The frame could be brushed aluminum, simple and thin. The tacks are red. They mark the corners and will not recede. Rather than preserve the print’s flawless condition I am choosing four points—coordinates for something I don’t know.


Dear Photographer

Loyal to no landscape trains keep 
leaving, I am returning 
“Streetlight in Afternoon.” (Snow fell 
lighter into evening 
until it seemed to stall.) 
The background, our former city: 
the bodega and its hand-painted sign, shabby 
row-homes, two pigeons on a ledge. 
The dusting. Stay 
with the portraits of people 
I don’t recognize and give back 
the beat of my typewriter nights, erratic 
rhythm to the hours you gazed 
into your monitor, adding opacity 
to the lamppost’s shadow, highlighting 
layered reds. You scanned 
the negative—you know 
the increasingly digital city 
is composed of metal, brick, and light. 

Notice the watermark. 
I wrap the fifth year of five 
in sheets I saved 
from the last ream you bought me. 
Today grows colder this way. 
A cruel draft through the window behind 
our former bed, the temperature going blue 
between our adjacent desks. 
We could only decorate accordingly. 
Remove a scratched negative 
or pointless note from the drawer 
and it warms the room. 
Or leave for another city. You sleep easier, 
you don’t.

This antique ribbon is brittle, almost 
dry, though what I type I can still revise. 
Answer this transcription of taps and pauses: 
retouch the pictures. 
Do not use the now-obsolete software 
I bought you. Put aside the portraits 
for a while and darken the tight trails 
through the weekend we camped upstate, 
your rare pastoral series. Brighten 
the pines. Under the trees we meet 
in the pixels.



Jason Labbe’s poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in ConjunctionsPoetryA Public SpaceBoston ReviewAmerican Letters & CommentaryCue, and Open City, among others. He is the author of a chapbook, Dear Photographer (Phylum Press, 2009), and he lives in Bethany, Connecticut.