The Daguerreotypist

                    i. Situating and Posing
                                        the Subject, Clamping the Head

Nicholas Dietrich, Baron de Ottendorf,*
          after serving both sides in the colonies’
     Revolutionary War—a hired failure
          paid for by the Continental Congress, seized
     by the British to perform its dirty work—
          hurried as all Hessian mercenaries
     did, to secure his place in lore and legend
          as a dark terror with which to be reckoned.

                    ii. Polishing and Buffing
                                        the Photographic Plate

Before disappearing, history’s record
          immortalizes not his conduct—always
     poor by all evidence quills chronicle for
          us; a traitor to allies and enemies,
     save for his transport of secrets in ciphers—
          letters and numbers soldier his legacy
     (but little of his memory) over land,
          seas, and centuries to protect what we send.

                    iii. Sensitizing the Photographic Plate

He had a son, this Baron, his title worth
          as little then as now, so his family
     would have to rely on him to deliver
          them from noble poverty; photography
     his trade and triumph, this one called Christopher
          whose inheritance was all but sorcery,
     trickery and mystery in his blood when
          he mastered his father’s gift for deception.

                    iv. Loading the Camera

Silhouettes undressed for him his subjects, whores
          under lace and bustle, vixens whose bodies
     freed from bodice made lucrative an art form
          only painters ever had monopoly
     over previously, so when he had heard
          of a Frenchman’s emerging technology,
     Christopher turned his portraiture commissions
          and French postcards to jobs needing truth hidden.

                    v. Taking the Likeness

This is how I came to him, my ancestors
          first, seeking to encrypt in plain sight—and ease
     their minds of—a burden: where slept our treasure
          and what made being a Borden the envy
     and horror of New England’s shores? Self-assured,
          wild-tempered, and successful beyond pity,
     how could we ensure no soul’s unworthy hand
          would grip our hatchet buried by us “madmen”?

                    vi. Developing the Image

Ferried from eternity, a code emerged
          in a collection of images only
     lonely curators or children encounter,
          often when lawyers and executors need
     to dispose of property no one bothers
          to account for, among silver-lipped beauties’
     faces tarnished by daguerreotypist’s lens,
          traces of a bloodline sought its descendants.

                    vii. Fixing the Image

Finding myself riveted, my forefathers—
          resurrected not on film, but on pennies
     flattened into copper plates bathed in silver,
          hinting with abundant side-whiskers their key
     to retrieving an even bigger find—bore
          into my hungry mind, filling its vault’s deep
     catacombs with memories of our broken
          home, exiled like Dietrich was, to become bones.

                    viii. Gold Toning or Gilding

Aware as they were of time’s pending torture
          and likewise desirous of ending its reach
     through tombs into my own, to him I ventured,
          soliciting of the heir a remedy
     concealed by his skilled Hessian cavalier;
          a way to bypass fate and pass on what keeps
     men such as me so debonair, a sitting
          for a picture in the same chair truth lies in.

                    ix. Washing the Photographic Plate

However both disparaging of kings, for
          hours fitting into a throne like one had deemed
     futile all comparison, while together
          the daguerreotypist with his artistry
     and I with my secret, crafted what future
          admirers would look on and grasp, faithfully
     following my hand down into directions
          preparing them to behold what moulds great men.

                    x. Colouring

Looking behind the curtain, peering backward
          into oblivion past a glass antique
     fog hazes to flavour against intruders,
          I taste it, labouring to face an athlete
     after whose wingèd feet I sprint, his vapour
          trailing beyond our project, a new journey
     through his studio’s labyrinthine basement
          amazes me with its own revelation.

                    xi. Encasing the Image
                                        in Protective Glass

Theseus-faced with a development more
          threatening than myth’s Minotaur, cryptic feet
     crawl into a poem this photographer
          himself cannot decipher since history
     repeats what its victims have had to suffer,
          over and over, generations deceived
     to begin again battles none ever win,
          re-enactments of poses bringing life’s end.

                    xii. Mounting and Presenting
                                        the Finished Daguerreotype Portrait

Immortal, if only before a mirror,
          in Christopher’s craft burns a brass energy
     returning his stunned customers and viewers
          to a velvet withdrawing room where retreat
     entire armies of invisible soldiers,
          each clue a warrior fighting to release
     his wisdom of where our patriarchs happened
          to imprison wealth beyond imagining.

*1-2-1, 1-3-5, 1-7-3, 2-3-4, 2-5-7, 2-6-1, 3-3-8, 3-4-2, 3-6-6, 4-2-3, 4-4-5, 4-8-7, 5-2-2, 5-3-2, 5-7-4, 6-1-3, 6-4-1, 6-8-1, 7-4-5, 7-7-6, 7-8-8, 8-2-5, 8-4-3, 8-6-2, 9-1-5, 9-2-8, 9-5-6, 10-2-2, 10-5-6, 10-6-2, 11-2-3, 11-5-4, 11-7-1, 12-1-1, 12-2-7, 12-8-5