The Art of Losing
by Arne Torneck (Notes) on Sunday, 14 April 2013 at 10:43



The art of losing isn’t hard to master;

so many things seemed filled with the intent

to be lost that their loss is no disaster.


                                                – Elizabet Bishop




Bygone trappings remembered

From cozy homes past.

Bloomy homes bursting

With assets of romantic love.


Remembered: the parsonage pipe organ,

Birthday gift bought by my bride,

Where I sat with my son on my lap;

His searching fingers sailing

Over the rolling black/white sea of keys,

Struck with wind song by my pumping of the pedals.

The old pipe organ: just a memory.

Remembered: the missing works of sculpture.

My naive entrusting of artifacts,

To the safekeeping of ill-wishers.

Thousands of hours of labour:

My will to impose my vision

On stubborn and slow-yielding matter.

Doorstops now for the uncomprehending minds of misanthropes.

Precious carvings: now just a memory.

Remembered: pawnshops.

Cameras and musical instruments

Bartered on a stillborn whim

Or against a week’s groceries.

The Rolleiflex I paid for with my blood.

The old Gibson I had given to my son,

For new songs to be sung;

Borrowed back and never returned.

Never redeemed.


Snipped the dusty voice from his little throat.

God, he sure could sing the blues.

Miracle-seeing optical machines,

Resounding sunbursting sound boxes:

Things of the past: now just a memory


Remembrances of cherished things lost.

But one loss, the worst – is missed more than these.

The psychic amputation worst of all.




Remembrances of cherished things gone.

Besides the musical instruments

And the picture-taking machines,

And the sculpture and the jewelry,

And the favourite pieces of furniture,

And the other tens and hundreds of things lost,

One loss was worse – and missed more than these.

The photographs.


The taking of pictures in my family

Must have been entirely non invasive events.

There were hundreds upon hundreds of photos;

And yet, I can’t remember them being taken.

No “Cheese”s or “Smile please”s,

To accompany my memory of the image-making moments.


I have no specific recall of my father or my mother

Ever taking pictures.

But prolific proof of some phantom photogrpher’s work,

A vast body of family photos,

Mounted with the passing years,

Giving heartwarming pleasure –

the magic moments of nostalgic reverie

only the casual viewing of old snapshots can bring.



I see them projected onto the screen of my memory.

Infant mes, toddler mes, young boy mes,

Teenage mes, young man mes.

Costumed, buff-naked, bathing-suited mes;

Team-sported, bar-mitzvahed, and just-married mes.

Alone. With friends. With family.

In permutations and combinations of the inhabitants of my life.

Mental images (memories)

Of recorded images (traces)

Of transitory image-making moments.

Memories of traces of ephemera.

Not much to go on.


The dusty, ribbon-bound boxes of them overflowed

Until one day my mother began pasting them

Against the black matte pages of Morocco-bound albums.

Fine albums became her passion,

In the days when photo albums were photo albums.


She bought one, bound in mottled silk plush

With an imitation mahogany interior,

Which swiveled on a base and was detachable.

Another, gilt-edged and embossed,

Stood on an easel into which was built

an ornamental drawer,

for photos waiting to be mounted;

And yet another was oblong.

Had an original lithograph

On a celluloid front:

A harbour scene at nighttime,

Freight upon the wharf,

Lights gleaming through the windows of the lookouts,

Boats lying quietly at anchor,

And the full moon beaming through the rifts in the flying clouds,

Lighting up the water

With an iridescent sheen of changeable silver.

Photo albums that were photo albums.

And into them she stuck

Every last photograph the ghost shooter ever took.




Wasted in an orgy of neglect.

Why I ever took them,

Commandeered them from my mother,

Is a mystery.


I brought them to the rented high-rise household

Of my second marriage,

Didn’t even find them a place there.

Exiled to a musty box of junk

In a basement locker

They lay moldering for years.


When the cracks in the marriage split into divorce,

The musty old photos were left behind –

To be incinerated,

To find their way to secondhand shops,

Swap meets, flea markets,

Or to gloriously crown for a moment in time

A scrappy peak in the city dump?

To taunt me for my carelessness

The rest of my life,

To make me grieve for the lost love of them,

To so deeply sadden me –

Because I can never again see them –

That I could weep?

Powerful things: old photographs.

Most powerful, when they are gone.


(C) 2013 arne torneck all rights reserved

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