Early Photographs of Historic Towns

from the work of St. Andrews photographer Thomas Rodger

What we recognise are buildings

scarcely changed, the houses that survived

in streets whose strangeness we ascribe

to history, their emptiness mistaken

for evidence of life lived at a difference pace

in pasts we think we understand

fixed in black and white. Time, it’s true,

has played its part, wiped people wholesale

from our view; left only absence

or a blur that might have been

a dog, a cat – and here and there the sense

of something verging on the human:

a smudge, some captured light, the ghosts

of bodies tricked out of existence,

gone about their business in a mist of haste.

from The Book of Belongings (Arc Publications 2009), © Brian Johnstone 2009, used by permission of the author and the publisher

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