/ Face

Andrew J. Russell, official photographer for the Union Pacific

There is a face a man makes
        for the camera, another
for his commanding
        officer. But I don’t get close

 enough to see. I let the gandy
        dancers stand
as they will beside these tracks
        the company orders them

 to build. Shovel
        by shovel mouthed up
from cold ground.
        Their shapes, not eyes

 I am to graft
        upon collodion. Here
where the railroad’s
        nerve and flash

 tremble over towns like
        packed organs.
Mechanics are the flesh
        I photograph. The men

 are just for scale, frames
        to elaborate
a different immensity. Not that
        of war, the trenches

 my outfit trolled, scouring
        the churned-up fields, sun’s
blank eye staring us down–
        Battle remnants I turned

 to stereoscope– each
        punched-out hole
doubled, in its parlor
        viewing, to a face.

What parent, what sweetheart
        dared to look?
The last we took
        was a bloated rebel

 an assistant propped
        beside a gravel pile that,
in their converging
        lines of sight, seemed

 to reach and scratch
        my own eyes out.
The gandy dancers, I’m told,
        are former soldiers.

Just living.
        The crack of gunpowder
barely stirs them.
        They laugh as they work

 in this shelter of a canyon’s
        shadow. Tender
against its stone
        lip rising like a wave

 about to break above them.