I. Madonna and Child
She is young,
though a hundred years of misery
show on her unwashed face.
Her eyes, beyond tears,
stare down the camera’s lens,
empty of life.
She wears a dress from which the sleeves
have been roughly torn, ragged, threadbare,
the side seams split and pinned.
The child she holds in her lap
has lost interest in nursing.
He holds her nipple loosely between his lips.
His eyes, wide and dark
turn toward the camera
and are beautiful.
They are asked to stop and pose for a photograph,
a mother and two children, all barefoot.
The mother’s left hand goes to her neck and shoulder
where the weight of the world has come to rest.
The right she places on her hip.
She is unable to look at the camera.
The boy, too looks off to the right
at something more interesting
than the woman and her tripod.
His striped overalls are suspended
unevenly from bony shoulders.
His face is a mask of questions.
It is the girl who stands out in the frozen image.
Her eyes, black, defiant, brave - cry out.
At seventy, she has become a migrant worker,
carrot puller, gypsy follower of ripe fruit.
Despite it all her back is straight.
She hides her hands behind an apron,
hands too old and too rough to hold babies,
caress a cheek, give a grandmother’s comfort.
Dorothea Lange (1895 – 1965) was a documentary photographer best known for her depression-era work for the Farm Security Administration. Her photographs humanized the consequences of the depression and influenced the development of documentary photography