Offcourse Literary Journal
ISSN 1556-4975 

Five Poems, by Chad Heltzel.


The Latent Image

In the early days of photography, the nature of the invisible change in the silver halide crystals of the film's emulsion coating was unknown, so the image was said to be "latent" until the film was treated with photographic developer.



1.  Grand Canyon Triptych


a.  Miles of rock and sky

to capture.  A caravan

of photographers scales

Grand Canyon trails

with a mobile darkroom. 

Horses carry on their backs

cameras, plates,

and musical instruments

turned sinks and tanks,

containers of

liquids.  These mountain

roads have no rails;

the animals’ burdens shift

over the protrusions. 

The weight is too

much to hold: 

a horse falls over

a cliff.  Camera breaks. 

A silver bath

rains over everything. 

Glass breaks on

the rocks.  Imagine—

the dead animal

broken in the gorge,

covered with splinters

and dust.  The image

at first lies invisible

on the plate. 

Silver salts climb

chemical lattice works;

helices of metals and liquids

converge through exposure

to light.  Chlorine mist

attaches to silver crystals,

proves the permanence

of the wreckage. 

The finished plate

is too delicate

to touch.  Blood and bone

on a cliff’s edge. 


b.  On a mountainside,

a worker attaches

telephone wire to

a post.    An invisible

hand readies to pull

the silhouette,

holding onto a length

of string, from the outcrop

on which it stands. 

What appears to be

a giant’s shadow

covers the opposite flank. 

A dry river runs

between the giant

and man holding string. 

They face each other

and have no faces. 

In color, and with

moisture in the air,

a rainbowed halo called glory

would form around

the worker’s shadow

and project over the sun. 

Calls will come through

the wires; dust and cable

carry our messages

over the trails. 

Trail, incidentally,

can also mean shadow— 

our face, its face.


c.  Tourists watch the sun set.

A man climbed

to the peak of one outcrop

to take pictures.   

The mountains were not

tinted violet.  The sunset

was never in the picture.

The man jumped

to the next outcrop.

Wearing sandals no less. 

It happened so

fast I could not see.

A camera and tripod

over his left shoulder. 

Only his right hand

to clutch the rock. 

His name remains

unknown.  The face

was not visible.

The truth is

the image can lie

invisible for decades. 

Everything depends on

molecules of vapor. 

A ledge—

just out of shot. 



2.  Mathew Brady Reflects on a Daguerreotype from President Jackson’s Last Year of Life


To make a daguerreotype, a silver surface                must be mirror-polished. 

The resulting image is negative,        but the surface reflects the image

to appear positive.                  The portrait will have no duplicates. 

Therefore,                   a government should preserve its dead.         After years

of living history,                     a face becomes a landscape                                of ghosts.
                                 The end of a life                                              carries weight and line.

Not only the face,                   but also the surface—                         time’s mistakes. 

As if generating                                  from the face itself.                As if they alone
constitute the face—                          some fingerprints       and some fog—
                     they conquer it. 

A fortune rests            in preserving lines,                                                    lost eyes and names.
  A man poses for preservation.                      Dignity may fail in the lines. 



3.  After Louis Daguerre’s “Boulevard du Temple,” 1832



A city apparently abandoned

but for a single man whose boots

are being polished—the first depiction

of human presence in a photograph

whose city street, closed off

by a neat line of trees,

rushes headlong

toward us—the composition alone

indicating movement—

but what we cannot see

is the motion—too fast

for early cameras, taking

too much time to expose—

carriages driving down the street

that, no doubt like some shopkeepers

who are hurrying beneath

the buildings’ awnings back to work,

and ladies carrying parasols—

having waited too long

on a sunny day—who are dashing

to buy that evening’s dinner bread and wine,

and another man—caught up

in the music of a distant street performer—

who dances vigorously in front of

his window—all become lost subjects

in the photographer’s rush to capture

common time—and the single figure—

faceless and blurred—

poses with one foot raised,

still as polished marble

                        during a busy day




4.  Kirlian Photography


A fingerprint shines blue light

from each swirl’s perimeter. 


A leaf, even after it is torn,

will generate fluorescence


from the severed section.  According

to Kirlian this is the object’s life source—


intrinsic energy the objects leave

on the photographic plate. 


But a coin too gives light—residue

of its owner’s perspiration,


which in turn makes the metal

more conductive.  Or perhaps, a remnant


of the owner’s skin.  Perhaps even

energy from Jefferson’s face


on the nickel.  The body becomes an image

by crafting the shadow in light.


Newer photographies detect light

around their subjects through sensors


like those on a polygraph machine.   

Movements pulse under the skin


and manifest the rhythms as different colors

of light.  Each photograph’s aura


dependent on the moment it is taken.

Tonight, in the museum garden, for example,


ghost tourists take pictures, the darkness

sparking like a lightning storm. 


With proper flash and shutter speed,

the camera may reveal dust motes through


lamplight, wisps of vapor,

possible phantoms. 





5.  Radiography*


Hummingbirds shape smoke trails in the sky. 


Beneath the ribs the heart remains whole,


and wasps have constructed paper cities there. 


If we look inside the cranium,


we find a mapmaker’s dream, gyri


become river systems.  Networks


of tubes emerge onto the other side of the world.  


Gondoliers row through the canals;


swarms of cabbage moths color the banks. 


Originally, the X-ray technician


was called a skiagrapher.  Shadow writer. 


Scientists who studied these rays


often died from exposure.  Unlike sunburn,


radiation burns continue to expand outward


even after contact has ended, enveloping


larger sections of skin.  Beneath the eyes,


a lighthouse beam:  when we face,


the world radiates primary color.


* Chad Heltzel writes: I had Rios's Observation Series in mind for the entire poem, but "Sleep" and especially "Map of Dreams" are relevant.




Chad Heltzel's poems have appeared in Faultline, Konundrum Engine Literary Review, The Literary Bohemian, and Hamilton Stone Review. He is a co-editor of the online journal Little Red Leaves and poetry editor of Packingtown Review. He currently lives in Chicago.


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