Rachel Jamison Webster


One of my prized possessions
has long been lost.
It was a tiny photograph
I found at an antique shop,
among the cabinet cards of girls
in communion’s white gauze,
those foggy faced, flower-boughed
ushers of the aughts.
It was a little square shot
of a girl in a bob, lovely,
with clear eyes and an impish gaze,
holding a sign in front of her unflawed face
on which someone had written
in capital letters NOBODY.
I looked into her eyes and decided
it was her own joke, the way a joke
is a form of knowing, as if she knew
the moment a hundred years later
when another girl in a bob would pluck it up
quickly, pay the fifty cents for it,
her hands almost shaking, almost hiding it
from the friends she was with.
Originality is so difficult to find.

In my own picture of that time—
a black and white strip
from a photo booth in a bar—
I am not at home in my skin,
but skittering its surfaces.
“There’s something in you
you’re not ready to admit to,”
John says when he sees it, and it’s true
it will be years before I can
sit still before a camera or a man.
It will not happen until that smooth
beauty is gone, admitted to
as something lost. Her, too,
that NOBODY, is a ruse
because she is somebody
to the few who stand outside the frame
confused or laughing while she’s
slipped through the joke to its truth,
the moment to its future, the
nobody she’ll be in the next century,
seeing her clearly. Her truth
was to stare beyond the whole
sugar-drunk carnival of youth
and over the cardboard edge
of mortality. It was there
that she saw and was seen.

Rachel Jamison Webster

is the author of the full-length collection of poetry September (TriQuarterly Press 2013) and the cross-genre book The Endless Unbegun (Twelve Winters 2015). Her essays and poems have appeared in many journals and anthologies, including Tin House, Poetry, The Southern Review, The Paris Review, and Narrative. She lives with her daughter, Adele, in Evanston, Illinois, where she teaches poetry and directs the Creative Writing Program at Northwestern University.