A letter to Campbell McGrath about Polaroids at a yard sale by Ralph Long Jr.


An unleashed Dalmatian is never a good idea at a
yard sale. Barking chaos, toppled tables, a box of
Polaroids scattered. Bow-tied boys, girls in print
dresses, squinting Sunday-best parents strewn like
autumn leaves on the still-green lawn. A woman
chases the errant dog. Her daughter guards the cash
box, offers me the photos for a nickel each if I spare
her the chore of picking them up. She finds no value
in the once-precious moments that are fading into
chimera as chemicals decay. Edwin Land’s promised
hundred years of color already spectral. There are no
images worthy of Adams’ Yosemite or Wegman’s
Weimaraners. A few arcade booth strips amid the
mess capture a vitality, a reality missing in the others.
I don’t know what happened to all the old photos of
my family. I wonder if the parents in these ones are
still arguing about the thermostat, children, television
channels. Or if the photos are the detritus of divorce,
death? Do you think this LBJ era ephemera is worthy
of preservation when so much else is disappearing?

I bought a dollar’s worth of photos, I can’t say why.

Ralph J. Long Jr. is the author of the chapbook, A Democracy Divided (The Poetry Box, 2018). His work has appeared in Stoneboat Literary Journal, The Poeming Pigeon, The Avocet and the anthology Ambrosia: A Conversation About Food. He graduated from Haverford College and lives in Oakland California.

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