Mirrors at 4am

This poem was written by Charles Simic:

MIRRORS AT 4am

You must come to them sideways
In rooms webbed in shadow,
Sneak a view of their emptiness
Without them catching
A glimpse of you in return.

The secret is,
Even the empty bed is a burden to them,
A pretense.
They are more themselves keeping
The company of a blank wall,
The company of time and eternity

Which, begging your pardon,
Cast no image
As they admire themselves in the mirror,
While you stand to the side
Pulling a hanky out
To wipe your brow surreptitiously.

Charles Simic, “Mirrors at 4 a.m.” from Walking the Black Cat. Copyright © 1996

Simic
Simic — pronounced SEE-meech

If you want a real treat, click this link and you can listen to him talk about writing this poem, and then hear him read it. It’s always so surprising to me what can inspire a poem. You’ll find other of his poems here.

He has two new books out, one a collection of poetry (The Lunatic: Poems) and another that is a collection of non-fiction (The Life of Images: Selected Prose). This fantastic review by Dwight Garner in the NYTimes will make you fall for Simic, if you’re anything at all like me. The review includes this great quote by Simic: “Nature as experience — making a tomato salad, say, with young mozzarella, fresh basil leaves, and olive oil — is better than any idea about Nature.” He’s very emotional and passionate about things. My kind of guy.

I was telling my friend Cindy that I learned about Simic (whose work has won numerous awards, among them the 1990 Pulitzer Prize, the MacArthur Foundation “genius grant,” the Griffin International Poetry Prize, and, simultaneously, the Wallace Stevens Award and appointment as U.S. Poet Laureate) on a little sign in a subway car. They do that — it’s a program called “Poetry in Motion” and in place of some ads around the top perimeter of the car, the MTA provides poetry. I never studied poetry in school, so I find poets in random ways like this. But as I told her, that doesn’t matter in the least — what matters is that you find them.

Book 2 (My Struggle: Book 2: A Man in Love) of Knausgaard’s humongous memoir has a long section on poetry, on poetry speaking to you and when it doesn’t, why it doesn’t, and I want to think about that some more before I write about it. Poetry often speaks to me quite loudly, shouting right into the chambers of my heart. I hope you enjoyed the Simic poem!

so touched by the human condition (+)

I was watching a PBS show called “On Story,” where entertainment creators talk about their process. The particular episode I watched was about making comedy work, so it was writers of Seinfeld and Freaks & Geeks and Curb Your Enthusiasm talking about how they made their stories work, and what worked of the stories their writers brought. Inevitably, they said, what worked were the concepts that were from someone’s real life. And then Alec Berg, a writer for Seinfeld, said that even in the emergency room, there’s someone trying to make a joke, trying to make the situation lighter. And that just touched me so much. Because it’s what we do, isn’t it? Someone tries to help, someone tries so hard to remind the suffering people of other things, to distract them. And isn’t that so dear? Too many times there is little or nothing to do to help someone, and we all know the agony we feel when we face that, our inability to help. So our hearts reach out, we do these little things, these tiny little connections, because we long to ease another’s suffering. 

None of us gets out of this alive. We suffer. Terrible things happen to us, and we try so damn hard. We slip and fall, trouble finds us when we’re minding our own business, we betray ourselves, we do shameful things out of our own pain, we have dread secrets we hope no one discovers. But we try, so hard. We want good things for ourselves, we want good things for other people. We think we’re not such good people, but really we are.

And story shows us who we are, even if it’s stretched out pretty far. I’ve always thought that Tolkein’s trilogy was really the story of Sam’s faithfulness, his loyalty to Frodo, come what may. The beauty of that part of the story always reaches me, no matter how many times I read the books. The Wizard of Oz, about our deep misunderstanding of ourselves, that we go in search of what we had all along; we think we’re stupid so we want diplomas, but we were always smart, all along. (OK, that was kind of personal there.) We’re not here for very long; we appear and disappear, and flail our way through this life trying to make our stand, leave our mark, express ourselves — and isn’t that the tenderest thing there is? How can you feel anything but tender toward us?

There are terrible people — this isn’t to deny that there are terrible people. There are people who scheme, and who just want to stir up trouble, and people who have no conscience or qualms about destroying others. That’s true too, of course. But in a way doesn’t that make the rest even more precious?

I’ve got a bunch of stuff to share, some links and a poem, so hop to it:

And finally, Temma sent me this poem that someone shared in her poetry group meeting last night. She knew what it would mean to me, and to be honest, it’s so hard for me to read because it breaks my broken heart so so much. But it’s so true, so I save it here, and share it in case you like it too.

Time Does Not Bring Relief: You All Have Lied (Edna St Vincent Millay)

Time does not bring relief; you all have lied  

Who told me time would ease me of my pain!  

I miss him in the weeping of the rain;  

I want him at the shrinking of the tide;

The old snows melt from every mountain-side,  

And last year’s leaves are smoke in every lane;  

But last year’s bitter loving must remain

Heaped on my heart, and my old thoughts abide.  

There are a hundred places where I fear  

To go,—so with his memory they brim.  

And entering with relief some quiet place  

Where never fell his foot or shone his face  

I say, “There is no memory of him here!”  

And so stand stricken, so remembering him.

Happy Thursday y’all. Be really good to someone today.

good thing of the day: blue skies! beautiful, beautiful blue skies, never to be taken for granted — and days of rain help me remember that.