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Windows or Mirrors…


Windows or mirrors are what glass can be
At its very best: a sheer transparency
On the one hand or the cool reflectiveness
By which words are transformed to poetry.

When I look in on one, who, looking out,
Mirrors my gestures, all of them, without
Any apparent work-up or reflection,
I cannot help but harbor a small doubt.

Window or mirror? Am I looking through
An unbacked surface at another who—
Or am I looking back out of the glass?
And you respond in just the same way too.

Is life, then, an experiment that we’ve
Concluded is intended to deceive
Us in this matter of what’s credible?
Once entertained, a doubt is loath to leave.

Small doubts harbor large doubts, which we fear
Will harbor larger doubts as they draw near.
Closer is larger in your side-view mirror,
And even closer than it may appear.

Window or mirror?  Blow yourself a kiss
And its return seems instantaneous,
Whether from you or from your opposite—
Much comedy, it seems, depends on this.

Given the speed at which that one replies
To all the feints and lunges you devise,
Your unsuccessful machinations, how
Can it be possible to doubt your eyes?

And yet of course you doubt them, do you not?
One leads, one follows in the slightest jot
Of time and makes you naggingly aware
Of small discrepancies that mar the plot;

So ever and again you must replay
The comedy: that mime won’t turn away
And settle the issue once and for all—
You haven’t any choice except to stay.

No need for any window to erase
Your deeds or attitudes, your name or face:
Leave for a moment only, walk away,
And you’ll just disappear without a trace.

Long looked into, your mirror will at last
Give back not just your present, but your past.
As for the future, you’d do well to leave
A generous tip for the encomiast.

In thirteen words, agree or disagree:
This world is riddled with uncertainty.
“I looked into my mirror and I saw
Another man, blindfolded, facing me.”

But hours (though not ours) spent debating
Such issues (which I know are fascinating)
Can only lead us to another question:
Why must mimes always be so irritating?

Is their uncanny gift for rousing ire
The consequence of mimicking desire
Unsatisfied and so removing us
To where no consummation may transpire?

Mirrors or windows—are there only two
Choices? May we look only back or through?
A painting gives the option of a third:
A window that somehow looks back at you.

Those great explorers of our solitude,
Hopper and Wyeth, clearly understood
The need to have their isolatoes framed
By windows open to incertitude.

The silent conversation of their thought
Goes on beneath the surfaces, but what
They think about is not for us to know,
Though thought’s the thought of something, is it not?

In company, they hold themselves apart.
Alone, they may reflect upon the art
That has imagined and created them
As always present, never to depart.

The way in which they model our desire
Makes us imagine they, like mimes, aspire
To share in the estate of mannikins,
As though there were no aspiration higher.

Anonymous as angels who’ve been sent
From distant elsewhere, they now represent
Those needs we didn’t even know we had,
But nourish once they’ve been made evident.

A part of what we are is what we feel
The lack of; absences that are as real
To us as presences; the wants and wishes
That we may flaunt, admit to, or conceal.

Or else accomplish—with a whole lot less
Drama—what most of us would think success:
A little more than what we call enough,
And praise our only world for its largesse.

“How strange it is to hear some ninny boast
Of dishes recommended by the cost
Of their ingredients and preparation:
A ripe fig dipped in honey, and I’m lost!”

At least that is what my Khayyam might say.
Beyond that which will keep the wolf away,
Are landscapes rich in what we may not have
In windows where largesse is on display.

The Narcissist, out looking for romance,
Turns windows into mirrors with a glance;
But how can he surrender to just one,
When every well-struck attitude enchants?

Caught looking out of each department store
Window at those of us who pass before,
They heap fresh coals on our longing for
What is beyond us always, always more.

Their status though, always depends on ours:
It’s our riches that keep them in furs.
They wince at carelessness, at shabbiness,
At going-out-of-business signs in stores;

Here in this dying shopping mall we find
Great windows full of darkness now and blind
To our needs, though once the glass would quiver
At what went on before it and behind.

The mannequins in their ambiguous rows
Were taken off, each poised for one last pose,
Moved then (as always) by another’s bidding
To where desire and desires find repose.

They have no way to show if they’re annoyed
At being tipped headlong into the void
Of a nearby landfill, where they must remain
For eons unsought after, unemployed.

Window or mirror—each in ages past
Upheld an order it could not outlast,
But trembled when increasing entropy
Disturbed its resolution to hold fast.

No matter the precautions that you take,
Windows and mirrors all in good time break:
Our detritus, swept out to colonize
Some distant strand: unfaceted, opaque,

Unscripted slugs, coins of all value spent,
Now clueless as to what they once had meant—
We gather them along the shore and guess
Whither they’ve come, whether they’ve been sent.

Who is that boy alone upon the beach,
His jaws clenched tightly to repress the speech
Uprising in his throat, in his balled fists?
I fear he is already out of reach.

The well-braced window and the hand-held stone
Are wary neighbors till the one is thrown,
The other shattered, and the tousle-haired
Child of impulse waits, barefoot, all alone.

The house that he could not get back into
Was taken from him long before he threw
The stone that broke the window—yet how else
Could he have shown the wholeness he once knew?

I can do nothing now but leave him there,
Who has been gone so long. Nor would he care
That I’ve attempted to imagine his
Exultation? Anomie? Despair?

From out of nowhere now a bland duet
Of mimes, without a ball, rackets, or net
Appears, fixed on an exhibition match,
And plays quite earnestly through point, game, set;

Till winners both, they effortlessly bound
Across the netless net without a sound,
And celebrate their feat in perfect sync,
Like images no longer mirror-bound.

According to Rabindranath Tagore,
The children who are playing on the shore
Between two worlds, in the ever-present,
Will go on playing there forevermore.

Poet, critic, and translator CHARLES MARTIN has written seven books of poetry, of which the latest are Signs & Wonders and Future Perfect. His other works include The Poems of Catullus, and an award-winning translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

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