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Vanishing Point
by Melora Wolff
A grainy old black-and-white photograph shows a smiling white male in a military-looking uniform standing in front of a tent with “ME” handwritten above his head and “HOME” written on the tent.
info Created with Sketch. plus Created with Sketch.
Unrecorded artist
title unknown, c. 1941-1945
gelatin silver print
Gift of Peter J. Cohen

Melora Wolff
Associate Professor of English
Skidmore College

Everything tilts. Both tents, the soldier’s hat, the papers he clutches at his side, his shadow, the truck that seems to roll along the top of the tent, the trees on the ridge that raise three branches pointed like flames against the sky, the stripes on the soldier’s sleeve, the tips of his pointed shoes. The planet tilts. Nothing is stable. The war tips the solid ground beneath the soldier’s shoes. He keeps his feet planted firmly in the dust and tries to keep his balance. He stands with his gut first, because guts are what matter. The snapshot’s near-perfect repetitions of points and angles insist that the soldier’s triangle of a hat is no different than the triangle tent; the pointed tent is the same as the soldier’s pointed shoe; the shoes’ points repeat the points of his stripes and of the shadow on his tent—a shadow of the soldier’s shape. The shadow, the tent, the hat, the stripes—mirrored shapes, each one a memory, shadow, and foreshadow of the next.

The war is one of many. The soldier is one of many, replaceable. Ad infinitum. The soldier and his landscape form a quilt of triangles all cut from the same fabric. A field of gray shapes. This particular soldier—according to his insignia T, a Technician, a T/5 second class, maybe a radio operator, a Special Serviceman, or an instructor, hefty, boyish, a little bit stiff in his flannel fatigues—seems to know the shape he may soon be in: his shadow, a headstone. He has written above his head in tilted letters not his name, but Me—a living word that lasts beyond both rank and name—and across the tent, the word Home. He makes a joke of that second word, his caption a clever irony. No one will laugh. The M of home repeats the M in me, and the capital M is itself a point made twice; Me embedded safely within HoMe. No Home without Me, his message says. He will send this photo home. The tent can be pitched anywhere. The trucks will move on through cities of repeated ruin. These two words travel together, a single unit. The soldier’s penned repetition of M and E—of Home and Me—turns the snapshot into a love letter sent to someone far away, not forgotten, never forgetting as she waits permanently in a room of bright quilts and drawn curtains for this soldier to return. I am still with you, his photo assures, I am still here, alive. He carries his memories with him, a tent where he can sleep in peace. I am with you always, the soldier promises. Carry Me Home.

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Wolff, Melora. “Vanishing Point by Melora Wolff.” Tang Teaching Museum collections website. Last modified April 22, 2020.
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