Robert Farnsworth

Don’t Start

Over the phone, through which we  struggled

so clumsily those many years ago, I now try

to describe the process of loading the camera.


But I haven’t the vocabulary to convey the steps,

which aren’t difficult, just (for a decade’s worth

of my having done them by touch) inarticulable.


And we almost tumble back into something like

those old set-tos, but save ourselves. The boys

are asleep in the suite’s next room after a long day


sightseeing, and neither of us could bear having

bickered at such a distance. Yet we used to bear it

somehow, didn’t we, remember? Now because


I know it’s coming, I’m charmed by the rehearsal

of your aversion to cameras. You keep fumbling

the leader into place across the tiny room behind


the shutter, and while I ask if you can feel little

cogs through the bordering perforations, I am

thinking of our wild cousin -in-law, who calls


monthly for commiserating sighs to punctuate

her own ventilations of pain, and how you

hand me the phone with a good luck  look that


maybe says you’ve forgotten those anguished toll

call silences between us twenty years ago.  Now

I’m judging the progress of the fire I’ve read beside


all evening, and then you divine somehow,

perhaps in a faintly anxious mid-sentence quaver,

my intention to be off soon, to leave the house


for some hours (the theater and a beer)–

you hear my intention to be gone, you hear.

And in your voice I hear, with an exquisite quarter


swoop of spirit, I hear your consequent shift

in tone, a certain cool flatness there, even as I

also hear the camera click shut and the auto-winder


whir.  But we don’t start, as once we might have,

no– I say where I am going, and you where you

are off to with the boys and the camera tomorrow,


and you yawn goodbye, until Sunday at the airport.

For better or for worse (and it’s thrilling not to

know which), we don’t, as once we might have, start.




“Don’t Start” first appeared in The Southern Review, Vol 17, No. 2, Spring 2001.