A mirror is the beginning of a comedy, and comedies, like the truth, are always a little cruel. But it isn’t true that mirrors never lie. They lack attitude, and therefore cannot be wholly trusted. A hangover means as much to them as a great sadness. Sometimes we can hardly recognize ourselves in a mirror-because the image is so accurate. We understand the need to shatter, to transmogrify, in order to feel more like ourselves. If we place a bowl in front of a mirror, it is an arrangement so artificial that what’s real-the bowl, the mirror, and the viewing eye-constitute a separate reality. Good realism is like that. The inanimate especially longs to be rescued by viewpoint more than by passion or conviction.
Stephen Dunn is the author of ten collections of poems, most recently Loosestrife (Norton), which was a finalist for The National Book Critics Circle Award. These prose pairs will be part of his new book Riffs & Reciprocities, which Norton will publish in April.
Copyright World Poetry, Incorporated Mar/Apr 1998
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