Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat
Plato must have needed the flame of a candle,
and a concave mirror to project his images
of trees and animals upon the cave wall.
The projectionist moves his slides quickly, in
and out of the lantern, palms polishing metal,
summoning a vision: trees tremble in the wind,
branches waver in a breeze, birds captured
in the sun’s glare. Our eyes, some historians
suggest, not accustomed to the phenomena
of cinema, found the representations life-like,
their movements potent, their presence paralyzing.
Yes, we were chained to the cave with wonder.
The Headless Woman
Nanny perched on a stool in a curtained
booth, posing as the headless woman
in her little brother’s circus show.
The poster depicts her long slender arms,
legs crossed, dressed in a skirt, high-heeled
shoes, her head absent from the
frame. This was before the invention
of Photoshop. Our great uncle manipulated her
appearance using a series of mirrors, so
that when you approached the cabinet
and she sat before you, her face was obscured.
Nanny was always the last to leave
the dinner table, chewing each bite
with deliberation, the third and fourth
helpings of apple pie. When Michael
lived out his final days in a sanatorium
for the mentally deranged, Nanny
rode the bus from Ottawa to Regina
to collect his ashes in a small box.
She held it on her lap the whole trip
home. When my parents told me this story
I imagined not the heat and the rabble
of the grey hound, but the rumble of a train,
its movement on the tracks, the rain against
the window, the straightness of her back.
Johann Georg Schröpfer sets up his magic
lantern in a coffee shop in Leipzig.
He conjures devils and ghosts, makes
the polis believe the apparitions stand
before them as real as their arms outstretched
in front of their faces. He holds séances
for our loved ones, lost to sickness
and old age. And in those dark nights,
the smoke pouring in from the walls,
the scent of coffee beans seeping in
from the storeroom, the image of a little
girl appears like an angel. His shows
so convincing, the magic begins to fool
Schröpfer himself. He becomes terrified
that even when the flame is extinguished,
even when the smoke wafts away and
the exhausted patrons take themselves
home to bed, its pleasant sleep or eerie
dreams, that the outline of a daemon remains
projected on the wall. Even when he throws
open the drapes and lets the sunlight inside,
he is unable to scratch the picture away. Like
a shadow burned into the plasma of a flat
screen television, he feels the devil burned
into his eyes. One evening in 1774 he shoots
himself in the face after telling his audience,
like a rabbit from a hat, he would later reappear.
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