Shadow Detail

John Tranter

You press the bakelite button, and wait,
and wait. Presently the lift rattles
down to the ground floor, and the attendant
passes you something through the brass grille.

The chlorine sifts down through the water,
turning pastel blue. That woman floating
fifteen feet above the floor of the pool –
she’s taking medication for weight loss
a cheapskate pharmaceutical that stretches
and compresses the day until it disappears
into the hot white dot in the centre
of the screen. The thin man in the
viewfinder acts like an instructor –
‘This is the patented exposure guide;
snap it open and look at the sunlight.’
Overhead a bumpy plane – a two-tablet bomber,
the man calls it, shading his eyes from the late
afternoon glare – laboriously scrawls a message
on the haze that tints the sky pink.

At last it’s evening, and a chill breeze touches
the lawn. Now they’re all staring at something
resting on the bottom of the pool. At least,
that’s the way you read this photograph.
The shadow detail builds up, telling us
about their hair, the boy’s dark tweed jacket,
pointing out details, the texture in the
broad masses. And the ancient lift creaks up
to its cage at the top of the building,
a cage the wind visits and teases.