Archive for the ‘Photography’ Category


O’Sullivan heads west with a head full of death,
A wet-plate photographer fresh from civil war.
Years among mountains, in desert starknesses,
He hopes will serve as an optic purge. He needs
Beauty badly, without the cruel counterpoints
Served up at dawn on misty battlefields.
O’Sullivan harbors secret germs. TB.
He fights them, though, with wild joy,
Dragging boats against the Colorado, long days of
Labor, careful with the fragile plates, and
At the end of every grueling day hikes alone up
Canyon walls with all his gear, prepares the plates,
Staggers a tripod in shifting rocks, and lays
The groundwork for the scene-smiths to come after him.
O’Sullivan never sees the bald rocks crazed with snow,
Or alkali flats smelting under blazing Utah sun,
Or empty Anasazi caverns, ruined homes like honeycombs,
Without facing what lies under every vision
He has pinned to paper, with albumen plate and silver salts,
Hung on walls for all to view, though none but he can see
The ghosts that cloud his mindful eye;
They find only beauty unsullied. He’s done his job.
Tuberculosis catches him on Staten Isle, years and
Miles from fields of war or granite peaks.
Still, he was a civil servant. He lives on.
In the National Archives, O’Sullivan’s Antietam and his
Gettysburg, his Devil’s Den strewn with soldiers,
Allow us through his eyes. It’s tricky, though.
Two precious negatives, superimposed: One of rocks
Peppered with bodies, blasted limbs,
Grey rags we know are bloodied;
One of rocks sifted with snow, a rugged slope,
Twisted pines and white water whipped in a froth
And frozen like snow by long exposure.
Print the pair, or merely hold them to the light,
And you will see a gorgeous battlefield,
Mountain cataracts aswirl with corpses.
We’re in through his eyes. We’re heading west.