American Life in Poetry: Column 041


Those photos in family albums, what do they show us about the lives of people, and what don't they tell? What are they holding back? Here Diane Thiel, who teaches in New Mexico, peers into one of those pictures.

Family Album

I like old photographs of relatives   
in black and white, their faces set like stone.   
They knew this was serious business.   
My favorite album is the one that's filled   
with people none of us can even name.   

I find the recent ones more difficult.   
I wonder, now, if anyone remembers   
how fiercely I refused even to stand   
beside him for this picture — how I shrank   
back from his hand and found the other side.   

Forever now, for future family,   
we will be framed like this, although no one   
will wonder at the way we are arranged.   
No one will ever wonder, since we'll be   
forever smiling there — our mouths all teeth.

We do not accept unsolicited submissions. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Reprinted from Echolocations, Story Line Press, 2000, by permission of the author. Copyright © 2000 by Diane Thiel, whose most recent book is Resistance Fantasies, Story Line Press, 2004. Introduction copyright © 2019 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.