Diane Arbus: Ground Glass

You grew up
peering from behind smoked glass
your schooldays private,

Freaked by surfeit of attention
the unreality of your class,
you by-passed fictions
saying ground glass does not lie.

Who could escape
the vicious scrutiny
of that wide eye, a voyeur’s
insatiable hunger?

I can hear the film’s manic whirr,
the clack clack of the shutter
as you move in, as you

pushing the real
towards the fantastic
(nothing sentimental
about your junkies

your dwarfs, or that
New Jersey woman
cradling a baby-
bonnetted monkey)

your fascination
fixed in razored clarity:
the lines and pores of
faces, life craters

our inescapable stories.

Questions and Answers

About “Diane Arbus: Ground Glass”:

Our grade eight teacher—an amateur actor with a resonant voice—would stride back and forth reciting poetry. He held the class spellbound with such stirring poems as Shelley’s “Ozymandias” and Keat’s “Ode to a Nightingale”. One day, in a quieter mood, he read us Emily Dickinson’s “Because I could not stop for death”. I cannot say why that poem touched me so deeply. On the long walk home from school, the lines of my first poem came to me. It was a brilliant winter afternoon with a sharp wind, but I hardly felt the cold. I walked along the the cadences of the new poem, enjoying for the first time the artist’s detached attentiveness that was to become a preoccupation and a joy.

By the time I opened the front foor to our house the poem was fully formed. I dashed up to my bedroom and wrote down the lines before they could vanish from memory.

This poem “Diane Arbus: Ground Glass” originally appeared in Science & Literature. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 96 (Spring 1983): 80-81.

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