It was years earlier, you in an old bathtub
with barely a few inches of water,
on an island, the weather outside unknown
but for the tan that surrounded your whiteness

Everything suggested an era long before the present,
the late sixties perhaps, a weekday afternoon
with little to show how you spent your days, your nights

Just two black-and-white photographs.
The first capturing your gaze into nowhere
the other when you covered your face with your hands
so you were not anonymous, only unseen
except perhaps by what you might be thinking

What was the year? Where was the house and town?
Nothing given away by your silence and careful movement,
“still practically a bride,” twenty years before we met

Another photograph I saw later
a more formal nude shaped by shadow
your bare feet, you in a crouch, faceless.
Not so much your image but a husband’s
hovering with a camera.

Whereas everything casual in the earlier pictures
with that bathtub and raw sunlight
makes them your ex-husband’ s masterpiece
—the secret of your look, the recall
of an afternoon when things will hold
or fall away
                    It is in these pictures, being
the unknown stranger, I hold
a complete belief in you, long before we met.

How did we meet, I whisper even now,
as if magically that first time landing
after a far journey upon a dark
hardly lit island late at night. And then
somehow solitary with you in what
for all I know was a crowded car.


Editors’ Note: This poem is excerpted from A Year of Last Things: Poems, published by Knopf.