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April 2014, vol 10, no 1

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Robert Root

Mirrors


At night, when I am propped up reading or watching television, I glance at the mirror on the dresser opposite the foot of our bed. I catch myself leaning to my right, the mirror image’s left, and I straighten my posture, make sure my shoulders are level. We’ve owned the dresser for twenty years or more, but it’s been opposite the foot of our bed for only four; I’ve now seen us sitting against the pillows piled against the wall for over a thousand nights. Sometimes, when I’m the only one upright in the mirror, I wonder who I’m seeing.

in mirror image
the face I think is mine
unknown to the world

When, in The Tale of Genji, the hero Genji is about to travel away from his wife Murasaki, they each write a tanka in which they hope his image will never leave her mirror. That images might endure in a mirror haunts me. My wife’s mirror and dresser used to be my mother’s, purchased in the early days of my parents’ first marriage to one another. In my mother’s bedroom, it stood opposite the foot of her bed. How often did my mother and father discover themselves in that mirror? How often did her second husband see himself there? When my parents married each other a second time and moved their bedroom downstairs—the bedroom now was mine and mirrorless—the dresser was positioned off to the side and the mirror reflected only the inadvertent presence of my father and the daily visit of my mother to her dresser drawers. My mother would have stooped before them as now my wife does each day, glanced in the mirror as she straightened, barely noticed herself crossing in front of it. Whom did my mother see in the mirror in the nearly thirty years it was hers? Whom have we seen in the decades it’s been ours? If I look hard enough, will I find images of my mother, my father, my very temporary stepfather, even my younger self in the mirror?

the three way mirror
in my father’s clothing store—
me and not me side by side

Marriage, Joan Didion writes in The Year of Magical Thinking, encompasses not only memory and time but “also, paradoxically, the denial of time.” In a marriage, you see yourself through your partner’s eyes each day and gain no perspective on the passage of time; only after her husband’s death ends forty years of marriage and she begins to see herself through the eyes of other people does Didion realize she is not still twenty-nine. Just so. Once I thought I saw my long-dead father in the background of a recent photograph and only slowly recognized that it was I who held his shoulders and arms that way, I who bent to just that angle, I who projected just that purposeful stride. It made me begin to interrogate my mirrors, which hadn’t mentioned how time was passing. Often now, I wake without expecting to see the face I saw in the mirror the night before; it will be a face I know but is not mine, not a twenty-nine year old, not the forty-year old my wife married, not whomever I expected to see. I check the mirror from time to time throughout the day to see if I have shown up yet.

grandfather’s face
in the morning mirror—
mine emerges later




crane