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"Variations on a Long Exposure" by Mark Sullivan

Along the gallery walls,
the landscapes of every night dissolve
into the saturated colors of fast film
left open to neon, to tungsten street lamps.
It’s not that their framed spaces
burn with a feverish contemplation,

or that an inner light has blanched
every detail, leaving only this forgotten
luminescence of strip malls and
convenience store chains branded against the air—

but that with a sustained look
we can find a single source of light
in every instant where our lives have taken place,
whether a package store fired with wattage
until it releases a vapor
into the overarching darkness,

or the amber glow from
some underground arcade abandoned
to figures whose shifting presence lingers
like words spoken into frozen air,

or a lamp left on in an empty room
among a shamble of row houses
fronting a state highway and a river
that will always arc out of the frame.

For the longer the aperture
remains open, the more we see
that only this was possible:
that the whole image almost crossed
into the vast and blazing vestibule
of the world next to this one,

and that as it shrinks back
from that threshold, it shines
with the arson flaming through the stores
of everything that will now never be.


—"Variations on a Long Exposure" from Slag by Mark Sullivan. Copyright © 2005 by Mark Sullivan. Used by permission of Texas Tech University Press.

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