The Failure of Photography


You and I spilled 

chemicals in the darkroom,

the wall gave us electric shocks.


1970’s hippie school: two

12-year-olds of opposite genders

with unsupervised lab access.


We poured stop bath into plastic tubs,

watched the images 

bloom in black and white,

their buds opened wide.


Usually we handled chemicals

like responsible adults: 

disposed of toxic waste 

down the sink drain,

washed our hands afterwards.


One day, in a hurry,

we spilled tub after tub

onto the cement floor: 


chemicals sloshed against

the dangling wires and

created a series of shocks

that reverberated through our bodies.


We did our best to clean up

before the teachers could find us

and revoke our darkroom privileges.


You and I made it back to class,

the teachers hadn’t even 

noticed we were gone.


They gave us unlimited freedom

while they sat in the corner,

chain-smoked filtered cigarettes,

and told us never to start

or we’d end up just like them.


So I hope it wasn’t you, but 

someone else with your name:

that young man on the internet


framed for murder, found 

not guilty due to insanity, 

confined to the state hospital;


exonerated 20 years later

on the basis of new evidence,

but Google doesn’t lie, and besides,


who else could it possibly be?

LEAH MUELLER is an indie writer and spoken word performer from Tacoma, Washington. She is the author of three chapbooks and five books. Her most recent book, Misguided Behavior, Tales of Poor Life Choices was published in September, 2019 by Czykmate Press. Her new chapbook, Death and Heartbreak (Weasel Press) is forthcoming in October, 2019. Leah’s work appears in Blunderbuss, The Spectacle, Outlook Springs, Atticus Review, Your Impossible Voice, and other publications. She was a featured poet at the 2015 New York Poetry Festival, and a runner-up in the 2012 Wergle Flomp humor poetry contest.