In the Vaults

(Inspired by the photograph “Cold Storage” by Richard C. Isner in the collections of The Mariners’ Museum, “In the Vaults” is dedicated to TMM’s cold storage negative vaults and photography collection – with their undreamed, secret life)

We left our horses long ago.
Their breath still steams in photos, though –
Those frost-bound scenes with bells on reins,
Museum Park drowned in the snow.
The sleighs, the skaters smile from cards,
Tamed there, glossed over. But not ours,
This past long frozen, yet alive –
Suspended though its makers died.

Within the cabinets chill and dark,
Or the exhibit’s glassy ark,
Safe from the power to touch or change,
These snaps are cataloged, arranged,
Each fragment bigger than its size –
Her frank gaze straight into my eyes –
This, all we have of her, whose name
Is lost to time – this look survives.

Safe in cold storage, freezer vault,
On paper silver-lined or salt,
In white-etched glass of negative,
The moments stall, the moments halt –
The only way to stop but death.
But now I catch a glimpse, my breath –
Those bells! Neighs, laughs, the wind’s gestalt –
I look again. They move, they live!

The women smile from glossy slides,
Lake Maury’s skaters I admired –
Forbidden now. No carriage rides,
Boat keeper and his wife retired.
The boats in Isner’s photo, though,
Lie waiting still, and dreaming slow,
Their benches thick, their padded rims
Cold comfort here while daylight dims.

Inside the frame, snow’s falling still,
Boats under boughs, thick with the chill,
Life’s secrets drinking winter’s malt,
Till snow-light takes the boats, the Park,
Files them in cabinets in the dark –
Hulls’ hollow echoes from the vault
Where entrance codes describe, arrange –
Bomb shelter from the blasts of change.

The hulls knock, mournful and morose,
File cabinet prisoners tapping Morse:
“We live, like you, in moments, hours
Culled free from context, yet still ours.”
Sealed in these vaults, their sources flensed,
A million memories live condensed,
Reduced, preserved, and yet they thrive,
Held safe by winter boats, alive.

They cannot move. They do not breathe,
Though snow sifts still through heaven’s sieve
To coat low boats with winter’s dust
While they knock, helpless, left to rust –
Boats snowed aground, with anchor chains
That rest in arcs like loosened reins,
Ready to slide through vanished streams,
They slumber, cold – they bear our dreams.





GardnerAdele-AdeleCaticus-GardnerCastle-comCat-loving cataloging librarian Adele Gardner has released one poetry collection (Dreaming of Days in Astophel) and published 281 poems and stories in such journals as Daily Science Fiction, Legends of the Pendragon,, Strange Horizons, and more. She is a two-time third-place winner in SFPA’s Rhysling Awards and a third-place winner in the Balticon Poetry Contest of the Baltimore Science Fiction Society. She lives and writes under her middle name to honor her father, mentor, and namesake, Delbert R. Gardner, for whom she serves as literary executor. For additional information, visit
(Photo by Adele Gardner)