Published on Academy of American Poets (

Self-Portrait as the Bootblack in Daguerre’s Boulevard du Temple

(An erasure of Grant Allen’s Recalled to Life)

I don’t believe
I thought

or gave names
in any known language.

I spoke
of myself always

in the third person.
What led up to it,

I hadn’t the faintest idea. 
I only knew the Event

itself took place. Constant
discrepancies. To throw them

off, I laughed,
talked—all games

and amusements—to escape
from the burden of my own

internal history. 
But I was there

trying for once
to see you,

longed so
to see you.

I might meet you
in the street:

a bicycle leaning
up against the wall

by the window. Rendered
laws of my country

played before my face. 
Historical, two-souled,

forgotten, unknown
freaks of memory.
The matter of debts,
the violent death

of a near relation,
and all landing

at the faintest conception.
Dark. Blue. And then.

All I can remember
is when I saw you. 

It was you
or anyone else. 

The shot
seemed to end

all. It belongs
to the New World:

the Present
all entangled, unable

to move. Everything
turned round

and looked
at you.


Copyright © 2017 by Robin Coste Lewis. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 5, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“In what is believed to be the earliest photograph that records the image of a person, (Daguerre’s ‘Boulevard du Temple,’ 1838) the rich shadow of a bootblack kneels on a corner, bent over, shining a customer’s shoe. Though the entire boulevard was very populated when Daguerre shot this canonical photograph, early photographic technology could not record all the city bustle because the camera was too slow—or were we, then, too fast? For me, this photograph has always been such a rich metaphor for the thin border between colonialism and modernism, or history and intimacy. A technical accident, a subservient subject was the only figure Daguerre could visually record, kneeling in the middle of the nineteenth century. And yet.”
—Robin Coste Lewis


Robin Coste Lewis

Robin Coste Lewis is the author of Voyage of the Sable Venus (Alfred A. Knopf, 2015), winner of the National Book Award in poetry.

Date Published: 2017-04-05

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