Our ancestors rarely smiled,
it seems, waiting patiently through
the lengthening seconds
until the flash broke like a gunshot
through the quiet afternoon air.
No wonder their eyes look startled.
We, however, learned to smile
on cue — the toothy rich kids,
the poor, the ones locked
in small, private hells at home
that none of us could have imagined.
We smiled at family gatherings,
on birthdays and holidays;
smiled on school picture day,
suddenly aware of our bodies,
awkward and uncertain, stuffed into
starched collars and stiff shoes
normally reserved for Sunday services.
We smiled the way others did,
the way they did on TV, two fingers
of our mothers’ spit taming
our outlaw cowlicks and eyebrows,
while we waited for what seemed
an eternity for the smallest
click of the shutter, when we could
at last exhale, laugh, look away.
by Greg Watson
Editor’s Note: This poem eloquently describes the surface of things, and the pressure to provide the correct canvas, while beneath, all manner of emotion roils.
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