515: Matte

515: Matte

515: Matte


I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.

Every once in a while, I’ll see a photograph of myself from my last year of high school. Long hair, ripped jeans, and a tight black leotard top. It’s hard not to study the face of who I was then. Smiling for the camera, or posing like what I imagined a model might do. 

The thing that also marks most of my pictures from fifteen to twenty one, is the presence of my boyfriend. We’ll call him...Classic. Classic was so intertwined with who I was those many years, that it’s hard to find a photo of me that doesn’t have him in it. Except for the few times that he was behind the camera, it’s me and Classic at a campsite near the beach, me and Classic outside my dorm room in college, always me and Classic staring right at the camera. This is when “Pictures of You” by The Cure plays and we all sway a little sadly in the rain.

For a long time, I couldn’t look at those photos without feeling a little pang of hurt. How much of our youth was tied to each other and how we finally had to let each other go in order to actually grow up. Still, I think there’s something to be honored in that past. I see myself there, the girl who wore the same cut-offs every weekend for a whole season, who always wore tight black tops and wine-colored lipstick and thought she was tough.... and I want to give her a high five. And I want to give Classic a high five. Look! We did it! We loved and survived.

In today’s poem, the intensity and complication of young love is explored in a way that makes us remember that love at any age is real, real, real. And whether that love was acknowledged or not, or reciprocated or not, you can still see it emanating from the pictures of the past. 

by Elizabeth McMunn-Tetangco

One night you told some girl
you’d met

that you had loved me
for five years
and she said, well,

why are you talking
to me then,
and I got mad. We weren’t

a love thing, I said
later, you can’t make this
into that.

I wore halter-tops
from Wal-Mart
and matte powder

on my face. In all the pictures
I have left
I am a ghost.

Who was that girl
made out of
things left outside

parties — old blue sweatshirts
and those cutoff shorts

that never fit me right? Who
did she love?

Now my face
is a white mask
filling with air.

I’m putting pictures
into bottles at the beach,

feeding tides
like starving lambs.


me in my college dorm room,
and then here:

you outside Vegas with the wind
filling your shirt.

Here, a last one:
our blurred faces, halfway
outside of the shot

and the world
a vague dark blur

spreading between us.

"Matte" by Elizabeth McMunn-Tetangco. Originally published in Peatsmoke. Used by permission of the poet.