You see him over my Uncle Al’s left shoulder
eating corn at a Sunday picnic & that’s him
behind my parents on a boardwalk in Atlantic City
smiling out of focus like a rejected suitor
& he’s the milkman slouched frozen crossing our old street
ten years before color & his is the face above mine in Times Square
blurring into the crowd like a movie extra’s
& a darkness in his eyes as if he knew his face would outlast him
& he’s tired of living on the periphery of our occasions.
These strangers at bus stops, sleepwalkers
caught forever turning a corner — I always wondered who they were
between photos when they weren’t posing & if they mattered.
It’s three this morning, a traffic light blinks yellow
& in my window my face slips into the emptiness between glares.
We are strangers in our own photos. Our strangeness has no source.
“The Stranger in Old Photos” by Philip Schultz, from The God of Loneliness: Selected and New Poems. © Houghton Mifflin, 2010.