03 April 2008

April Poem of the Month

Ode on My? Image [Not] in the Mirror

Praise for the mirror’s angular edges
or oval of trim, or frame of gilt;
its multiplicity of shapes and sizes.
Praise to the bathroom mirror, useless in fog;
and the tiny handbag circle, to the rescue
of eye-smudged sorrows and lipstick blues;
and the hand-carved full-length an uncle made,
I in awkward haste shattered, and no one saved
from a fragmented, dangerous fate.

On every wall, these works of art,
these frames of magic nothingness:
for who has ever seen a mirror? You have not,
not once. No one can ever see what sort of thing
it is in itself: it has no color, no topography
or texture. Meaningless, like a macaw’s chatter;
empty, like a poet reading someone else’s words.

Yet a landscape in a mirror, or a face,
becomes a mysterious wonderland
with hues and depths that, outside its glass,
would be fantastic, would have to be imaginary.
In the glass, who knows?
How do I know how I really look—
whether I have hazel eyes, or bleached blond hair,
sorrow or contentment in my expression unreflected—
since I only ever see myself at a distance, in external glass?
I have never seen my face, neither with my own eyes,
nor by a long hard gaze at me with anybody else’s.
How do I know the mirror doubles truth?

How do I know I have seen anything?
In the mirror or without, a solitary sensation?
Try to see, try to know you feel:
concentrate the energy of consciousness
to register the messages your senses send.

I once stood in the midst of snow-covered trees,
forcing myself to listen to the silence flakes of gray made
against the same-gray sky, to see that paper-colored air
while I was there. And could not.
Noises, colors, cold, and dark:
none of these are in me, none of them are mine.

The flavor is not in the wine, nor on my tongue,
nor any bodied place. The act of sensing
slips a gap between body and mind.
I cannot feel at any moment, in any now—
for when is now? It is the same as never.
All I can do is memorize.
The harder I try to see, the less I can.



Anonymous said...

Marvelous! You have said it all, as usual. Beautiful, mind-surpassing, especially as (I felt) you portrayed such a disturbing and elusive mind-splinter as delightfully fascinating and even pretty. Is Uncle John’s mirror really broken? (= I want to read it through more times, but I was wondering what you intended with the second to last line. Isn’t memory even more elusive than any [other?] senses?

Iambic Admonit said...

Yup, I really broke the mirror! Isn't that awful? I should have left it at home with Mom....

What did I intend with the penultimate line? Well, just that... whenever I'm looking at/listening to/feeling something, it seems that I'm not actually experiencing it. When I try hard to focus in on the sensation, I find I'm just putting it into memory, or even remembering it right then, not really feeling it. Does this happen to you? Or do I need my head examined?

Ann Ahnemann said...

Wonderful expression of how a person sees, or doesn't! What you say here happens to me all the time: "When I try hard to focus in on the sensation, I find I'm just putting it into memory, or even remembering it right then, not really feeling it." C. S. Lewis in his essay Meditation in a Toolshed expressed similar- a beam of sunlight coming in through a crack at the top of the door, andg on how one looks at it, looking along the beam or looking at the beam, changes one's entire perpective. Which is the 'true' or most valid image? So we must step aside and look along the beam. There is the sense that looking along the beam is closer to things' real and transcendental nature.

Iambic Admonit said...

Thanks for your perfectly relevant comment, Ann! Yes, I keep coming across C. S. Lewis's distinction (which he stole from the philosopher Samuel [?] Alexander) of enjoyment vs. contemplation. But the harder you try to "just enjoy," the further you get. Then do you try to stop trying?