Child with Pillar Box and Bin Bags

Kathleen Jamie

copyright ©Kathleen Jamie, 2002

But it was the shadowed street-side she chose
While Victor Gold the bookies basked
In conquered sunlight, and though
Dairy Road Licensed Grocer gloried and cast
Fascinating shadows she chose
The side dark in the shade of tenements;
That corner where Universal Stores’ (closed
For modernisation), blank hoarding blocked
Her view as if that process were illegal;
She chose to photograph her baby here,
The corner with the pillar box.
In his buggy, which she swung to her face.
She took four steps back, but
The baby in his buggy rolled toward the kerb.
She crossed the ground in no time.
It was fearful as Niagara,
She ran to put the brake on, and returned
to lift the camera, a cheap one.
The tenements of Caledonian Place neither
Watched nor looked away; they are friendly buildings.
The traffic ground, the buildings shook, the baby breathed
And maybe gurgled at his mother as she
Smiled to make him smile in his picture;
Which she took on the kerb in the shadowed corner,
Beside the post-box, under tenements, before the
Bin bags hot in the sun that shone
On them, on dogs, on people on the other side
The other side of the street to that she’d chosen,
If she’d chosen or thought it possible to choose.

Notes on the Poem

A mother takes a picture of her child in a shabby but perhaps not unfriendly locale. What is Kathleen Jamie's poem "Child with Pillar Box and Bin Bags" depicting and possibly suggesting of this ostensibly innocent scene? The poem mentions three times that the mother and child are in an area filled with tenements, rented rooms or apartments typically associated with poorer neighbourhoods. The neighbourhood also plays host to bookies - individuals and operations that deal in illegal betting and other shady activities - as well as stores and empty storefronts. While this paints something of a dismal picture, the poem insists that these are "friendly buildings." Strangely, there seem to only be buildings and anonymous traffic. Oh, hold on ... towards the end of the poem, there are dogs and people, but they're on the sunny side of the street. Just as tenements are mentioned multiple times, the poem tells us repeatedly that the mother and child are in the shade, on the "shadowed street-side", on the "side dark in shade", if anything can be more emphatic. In the midst of this somewhat unnerving setting, what are we to make of the mother's thoughtlessness? Her choice of where to photograph the child, next to a mailbox and some bags filled with garbage that have been exposed to the sun, is odd and repelling. Before taking the picture, she neglects to put the brake on the buggy and it starts to roll towards the road. Granted, she's quick to respond and suitably frightened, although maybe not remorseful. Finally, for someone clearly not thinking or thinking enough, is the reference to thought in the last line ironic or even more, ominous?

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