after a daguerreotype of “Aunt Jane & Uncle Jerry,”
an enslaved couple in Virginia “on their wedding day.”

They look rather old for newly-weds,
and so I doubt the Daguerreotype
was truly taken on their marriage day
despite and maybe because of the finery
they wear: her lacey gown, his dapper
suit and cravat, their bejewled ears
and fingers. Decked out by their owner
to celebrate them? Or to show himself—
John Andrew Simpson of Chesterfield
County and Norfolk, Virginia—the model
of a modern slaveowner. What rags did
Aunt Jane and Uncle Jerry wear the days
before and after the trip to Whitehurst’s
studio to sit still for the minutes it took
to hold a pose for the photographer’s
plate? If I stare at their faces for a like
period of time, I see Jane and Jerry’s
wan smiles devolve into blankness—
smirks? certainly irony. Jerry’s arm
drapes Jane’s shoulders as a soldier holds
his buddy: an idea of John Andrew
home on leave from the war to keep
his property his? And to enrich himself
with vendible issues of Jerry and Jane?
Having proven her fecundity to John
over the years, he trusted her and Jerry,
a mate of some kind, to watch over,
while John Andrew fought in gray,
children hers and his and never her

James Penha has lived for the past quarter-century in Indonesia. Nominated for Pushcart Prizes in fiction and poetry, his work has appeared in several anthologies. His essays have appeared in The New York Daily News and The New York Times. Penha edits The New Verse News, an online journal of current-events poetry. Twitter: @JamesPenhas.