Photographic Test

By Jay Bernard

In this video, writer Jay Bernard performs Photographic Test, their beautiful, poetic response to our Second Sight film tour.

Recorded at Catford Mews, London, on 15 October 2020.

Photographic Test, Jay Bernard, 2020.

Photographic Test, Jay Bernard

Night train skids across the bridge, line struck through the day before

Gold jet between two tunnels, light sped from lamp to screen

Gunning conquest of the gap, reel risks spark or flame

Muzzled bullet, flying fist, caught as blur from life on tape –

I think of the Lumiere brothers and their train, flat-faced bullet

that skews a sucker punch through time, remains within the frame

while the people long ago who, seeing only light and glass,

tensed their bodies for the blow, so legend has it –

those of us non-tesselate with life, who tilt and feel the world unseen

are standing on the platform still, a corner now in Handsworth,

now a street, now a twilit sense of something else at play,

something coming through the screen with threat to lift us off –

Europe. Setting sun. England cooling off. Lewisham at dusk.

I know this light from films of city walls, this tension from the heat

of what was never meant to be made manifest and black as

some remembrance I have never lived but know of, know –

ahead, the junction like twin mambas in a century of shedded skin

reel and dust and tatty silhouettes that I have seen on VHS

nativeless, but rooted in the slick and spin of film, the slick and spin

of someone moved as much as me by what light can or cannot do –

I know this train, I know this night, because I saw them in a song

a way to be, a way to be a weather vane, a way to understand

the feeling that we won’t be here for long, but here we are

the shadow and the act, the watcher and the tape –

Jay Bernard is a writer whose interdisciplinary work is rooted in archives and social history. Their debut collection Surge, based on the archives at the George Padmore Institute relating to the 1981 New Cross Fire, won the Ted Hughes Award 2017; it was shortlisted for the Costa Poetry Award; T.S. Eliot Prize; Forward Prize for Best First Collection; Dylan Thomas Prize; RSL Ondaatje Prize; John Pollard Foundation International Poetry Prize.

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