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poetry School photo: The Jewish school, Warsaw 1929

For the London-born poet Jane Spiro, her father’s school photo taken in 1929 represents the “before” but cannot foresee the changes that await a Polish-born Jewish boy.

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School photo:

The Jewish school, Warsaw   1929

By Jane Spiro

In the school photo, four rows of children,

boys in white shirts, smiling, smirking, grimacing,

the girls in their tunics with box necks,

neat white collars, preparing for their futures -

still-faced that minute in the lens eye, in between

the fidgeting, failing to sit up straight, pulling

faces, sticking out a tongue, trying to make

teacher laugh, and in the bottom row on the left

there he is, my young-boy father, his face sweet

with life as yet unspent, his dark eyes staring

intensely at the viewer, who knows him now

more than he knows himself - how the shy

half-smile, the straining forward towards the camera,

the black hair cut straight above his eyes, 

hold the story of the flight to come, the healer

he is to be, the spouse, the father, not yet known.

The moment is held here, click, before all,

line by line, child by child, scatter

with playground shouts, tugs of war,

hide and seek, empty rooms. 

“School Photo” originally appeared in the anthology Intimate Riches in a Little Room (2016)

Jane Spiro is a writer and university teacher living in Oxford and the west country of England.  She has published two poetry collections and a novel, as well as books for the teaching of creative writing and poetry. “School Photo” also appears in her new book, Is a Gateway (2018)