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Tricks with Mirrors -- Margaret Atwood

Guest poem sent in by Salima Virani , in response to
the suggested theme - poems by writers better known for their prose.
(Poem #1363) Tricks with Mirrors

 It's no coincidence
 this is a used
 furniture warehouse.

 I enter with you
 and become a mirror.

 are the perfect lovers,

 that's it, carry me up the stairs
 by the edges, don't drop me,

 that would be back luck,
 throw me on the bed

 reflecting side up,
 fall into me,

 it will be your own
 mouth you hit, firm and glassy,

 your own eyes you find you
 are up against closed closed


 There is more to a mirror
 than you looking at

 your full-length body
 flawless but reversed,

 there is more than this dead blue
 oblong eye turned outwards to you.

 Think about the frame.
 The frame is carved, it is important,

 it exists, it does not reflect you,
 it does not recede and recede, it has limits

 and reflections of its own.
 There's a nail in the back

 to hang it with; there are several nails,
 think about the nails,

 pay attention to the nail
 marks in the wood,

 they are important too.


 Don't assume it is passive
 or easy, this clarity

 with which I give you yourself.
 Consider what restraint it

 takes: breath withheld, no anger
 or joy disturbing the surface

 of the ice.
 You are suspended in me

 beautiful and frozen, I
 preserve you, in me you are safe.

 It is not a trick either,
 it is a craft:

 mirrors are crafty.


 I wanted to stop this,
 this life flattened against the wall,

 mute and devoid of colour,
 built of pure light,

 this life of vision only, split
 and remote, a lucid impasse.

 I confess: this is not a mirror,
 it is a door

 I am trapped behind.
 I wanted you to see me here,

 say the releasing word, whatever
 that may be, open the wall.

 Instead you stand in front of me
 combing your hair.


 You don't like these metaphors.
 All right:

 Perhaps I am not a mirror.
 Perhaps I am a pool.

 Think about pools.
-- Margaret Atwood

While I recognise Atwood's distinct style of writing, I have never really
been engaged by any of her books.  However, this poem by Atwood, nabbed my
attention and is one of the finest I've read on the role of a woman.  The
poem is couched in metaphors - and objectifying herself as a mirror, Atwood
points out the many parallels between a mirror and a woman in the shadow of
a man.  I really like the way - it starts by first acknowledging the imposed
subordination and then goes on to remind the reader that "There is more to a
mirror than you looking at" and that one should not "assume it is passive or
easy, this clarity with which I give you yourself.".  What has started as a
sentiment of resignation and vulnerability , climaxes to an appeal for
change and leaves you hoping that it will crystallize into determination and
resolve to actually make the change.

Margaret Eleanor Atwood, poet, novelist, and critic, was born November 18,
1939 in Ottawa.  She was educated at the University of Toronto (E.J. Pratt
Medal, 1961) and Radcliffe College, Harvard University, Mass.

Early influences on Atwood's mythic and archetypal poetry (Double Persephone
1961) were Northrop Frye andJay MacPherson. In 1966 The Circle Game was
awarded the Governor's General Award, establishing Atwood's poetic
reputation. In the 1970's Atwood was an editor for House of Anansi Press and
This Magazine.  Atwood's prolific output has included criticism, Survival: A
Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature (1972), Second Words (1982);  novels,
Lady Oracle (1976), Bodily Harm (1981); short stories, Dancing Girls
(1977),Bluebeard's Egg (1983) and children's books Anna's Pet (1980), among
others. In 1985 Atwood was awarded the Governor General's Award for her
novel The Handmaid's Tale.

Atwood has definitely put Canadian literature on the world map. Shortlisted
three times for the Booker Prize, she finally won it with Blind Assasin.
Atwood continues to live and write in Toronto.


29 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Anonymous said...

I agree this is a fabulous poem and reading it is like reading a beautifully condensed version of 'The Second Sex', seasoned with fairy tale and the Lady of Shallott. I also love the way Atwood mixes humour and feminism, and, to me at least, it doesn't end with an appeal but with a joke. The lover is sick of metaphors, so what does she do? Offers him another one which must surely reference Narcissus as well as Atwood's own preoccupation with the fluid feminine which she explores more in 'Surfacing.'

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