Mirrors are fascinating things. They offer a reflection of what is set before them, but have no power to act on their own. Even so, we give them power capable of bestowing life and value, of making proclamations carrying great weight when, in fact, they do no more than state the obvious. And if the glass is still a bit steamy from the morning’s shower, then they don’t even manage to do that.
As though empowering the looking-glass were not enough, we often ask others to be a mirror for us, to reflect us back to ourselves, forgetting in the process that a person can’t do the work of a mirror without first altering the image in the process—sometimes, unfortunately, to our great unhappiness.
A suggestion: if you need a mirror that is not a mirror, try using a poem rather than a loved one. You’ll often find the poem will guide your self-reflection, and perhaps help keep loved ones being loved. If you want to make it a little meta, try using a poem about mirrors to mirror yourself. To get you started, here are ten great mirror poems, with nary a discouraging three-way in the bunch.
1. How Arguments Go
Pieces never tell the whole story.
Safety glass still breaks;
it just doesn’t shatter.
Heat escapes through clear glass,
its pattern unseen in fragments
but no less visible.
like shades pulled against sun,
hides what most any fool can catch in light.
She’s got her side. He has his.
Chipped words go air-borne
when thrown against the mirror.
Clean-up happens by fits and starts.
Cuts can be on the surface,
or slide slickly along fault lines.
Sometimes it takes a probe
and a camera’s eye to show you
what you’re looking for.
Windows in wind rattle,
at night shadow
the dog’s bone half-consumed.
2. Sleeping in Grandmother Wolfe’s House
Buried here in sheets in this darkened room,
sometimes time sits heavy on the soul.
Some evenings with a last over-the-shudder
look out the window, Red finds herself receding
further, further back, to stone, becoming
the dead thing that fell from the branch,
or the bird-bitten, unplucked callow drupe.
This is the bed where she was born.
The mirror tipped in its walnut frame pins her
flat against the wall, same axe-blade face
suspended there above a crocheted doily
that her grandmother saw, that woman
whose knife pared each portion to its core,
the crevassed heart of apricot and plum.
—Anne M. Doe Overstreet, from Delicate Machinery Suspended
My sister tells a story about a swan and a jeweled strand.
I have never thought of myself as a bird before.
A heron stabs after the half moon among the current,
then lifts off, carving into the horizon.
The sea shirs the sand where my foot rests.
Caught in the mirror, her daughter blooms pale,
hung from the morning like a pearl pendant.
—Anne M. Doe Overstreet, from Delicate Machinery Suspended
4. When the Sick Find Their Answer
When I was little/I was afraid of my own
heart/a fist trying to get out… —Karen G
I was never taught to say I love you
to myself. The ten commandments
all start with “Thou Shalt Not.” So
I didn’t. And look how much it’s cost
me: When I was little, I was afraid
of everything. My heart, that fist,
beat me silly with the love it had
to give others. It’s taken till now to
see my rib cage as a bird cage, a jail,
to see even my teeth a fence, holding
back as much as they take in. More.
Biting and chewing carefully every
thing Mouth takes in, mulling it over,
swallowing secrets it might have told
Mirror, that reflection waiting, that
little girl grown up, now grown so old.
—Paula J. Lambert, from The Sudden Seduction of Gravity
5. The Gift
You won’t know which way
to hold it, my father said,
his Christmas gift
a painted girl with felt eyes
and blonde yarn hair
on the back of an oval mirror.
But with shame and fear
as if from nakedness
I ran to the frozen river
covering her laughing mouth
branches, fragments of glass
not knowing that seven
months later a tan-armed boy
would say Look, this washed up
in the sand, how she would
startle me: a ghost child
with her smiling face
and fading yellow hair—
in my green eyes.
—Amy Billone, from The Light Changes
I wonder how much the mirror
with nothing in it.
I step away,
touch glass with fingertips.
Every day I do this,
looking at the face
with countless joys and griefs.
One day I will shave and do
the ritual not knowing
it is the last time.
Every morning I am rehearsing
saying goodbye to myself.
The glass I got in Venice
is a mirror
is the iris in your eye
is the color of bruises.
—Luci Shaw, The Cinnamon Beetle Twitter Party
will come at different hours
lifting high their delicate hands
praising the wind
that wraps itself
around the feet of God
will leap in mirrored halls
finding the heart that beats in time
with satined feet;
they will come
on currents of perfumed air, there will be
no memory of their movements
beyond these bodies
that knew this prayer.
—L. L. Barkat, author of Love, Etc.
In the pause between spring rain
a woman pirouettes in a field.
Her skin is a thousand mirrors.
10. And the Ship Sails On
He faced the sink, one foot up
on the edge of the tub. She stood
behind him, reaching around.
In the mirror, her face rose
over his shoulder like the moon,
and like the moon she regarded him
beautifully but without feeling,
and he looked at her as he would
at the moon: How beautiful!
How distant! No smiling, no weeping,
no talking. A man and a woman
transacting their magnificent business
with the usual equanimity. The man
as a passenger walking the ship’s deck
at evening and the woman as the moon
over his shoulder oiling the ocean
with light. Deep in the ship’s belly
pistons churned and sailors fed
the boilers’ roar with coal. On deck
just the engine’s dull thrum and
a faint click as the woman sets her ring
on the cool white lip of the sink.
Photo by L.L. Barkat.
Browse more poems by category
How to Write a Poem uses images like the buzz, the switch, the wave—from the Billy Collins poem “Introduction to Poetry”—to guide writers into new ways of writing poems. Excellent teaching tool. Anthology and prompts included.
“How to Write a Poem is a classroom must-have.”
—Callie Feyen, English Teacher, Maryland
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