Instamatic Memory Machine

Exiting the Sierras, Nebelhorn, Lincoln Highway, California, United States of America
Much as I hate moving
And all that packing
Which takes forever
As I go through the shoe boxes
Of memorabilia
Stacked in the closet
Which have remained unopened
Since the last time I moved

I have to admit
To some minor or major
Moments of fascination
Or delight
Or longing
Emotion moving my core
With some rekindled
Long-forgotten moment
Or chapter
In a life becoming much too long
To hold all the memories
Within my mind alone

A birthday card
A letter written but never sent
Elementary report cards
And aptitude test results

A story I’d written
With misshapen letters
And a child’s innocence
A Dragnet drama
Starring a detective snake
Age eight

A boy scout badge
This one a religious achievement award
Sought at my Catholic mother’s behest
For which in order to earn
I’d felt compelled to lie
With the result that
I could never again
Hear the word “actually”
And believe the words following it
Were honest
Age ten

And then there’s a photograph
Shot one summer from a rest stop
On our way into the New England mountains
Departed from the dreary strip-mall purgatory
Of our suburban home in central New Jersey
We would arrive at the campground
In a couple Walt Disneys
(A unit of time equal to one Sunday screening
Of The Wonderful World of Disney
Which my sisters and I still use)
Age 11

In just two Walt Disneys there would be
A full summer to be lived with
Lakes and fishing and streams and snakes
And frogs and mosquitoes and stars in the sky
And campfires with tongue burning marshmallows
Memories come flooding back
In this box full of summertime photos
Taken with the family Kodak Instamatic
In a time seemingly without hardship
Or conflict
Which shouldn’t surprise, after all
Who takes photographs of such moments
(Or would keep them all these years)

All these moments
Which might have been lost in time
But for the images captured
By a plastic box
With a plastic lens
Loaded with cheap print film
In a plastic cartridge
The cheapest device possible
For recording time and space

The numbers of memories
Those Instamatics preserved
All around the world
Must have approached
The kind of approximate infinity
Even a child of eleven
Could wrap his head around

That delightful little box
Seemingly fragile
But surprisingly sturdy
Like the memories it recorded
Now providing from time-to-time
The required illumination
To spark a memory
Like a flash from the cube
On my Instamatic

Exiting the Sierras
Lincoln Highway
California, USA

Taken during travels, 2019

The photograph here was not taken with a Kodak Instamatic 100 camera.  Nor was it taken anywhere near New England or even the East Coast. Nor was it shot in the 1970s. Instead, it was taken in north eastern California, about a year ago, with my professional, digital Fuji X-T2, through a very expensive zoom lens. It’s actually a pretty high tech image, combining nine separate photographs, each shot at a different exposure, in order to compress the scene’s very wide range of light and dark into a single photograph. For this reason, and a few others I won’t go into, there’s no way an Instamatic could’ve taken this photograph.

Still, by the time I’d finished editing the original image file, I’d intentionally degraded the image enough, and thus given it enough of a vintage Instamatic “feel,” that this narrative poem started coming together in my mind and on my desktop.