A mirror is latent with triple take. A mirror has less to do with our peering into it, where we find ourselves stranded in dopplegängerland, than it does with the mirror itself looking at us looking at ourselves looking at ourselves. Mirrors are too schizoid to not be sentient. Concepts of identity and perspective spazz on the glassy plane, beyond the reach of psychology and conventional philosophy. The distance between subjective and objective gets weird where mirrors are concerned.
That must be why a mirror in a quiet room has such a peculiar aura about it — it’s weary from persistent triple take. The slow metaphysical crisis of melancholy is an unavoidable risk from such thrice looking at things. Can a mirror be melancholy? I don’t see why not, so I say “sure.” It’s an occupational hazard for mirrors and for some rare poets.
Polish poet Adam Zagajewski doesn’t take phenomena for granted. In his poems, the confluence of time and substance is a complex event that involves thrice looking — he looks at phenomena; he looks at phenomena glancing back at him; he looks at himself taking it all in. Such intense peering can squeeze out astonishing organic metaphors.
Most people — even most poets — are satisfied with phenomena just being there, aren’t compelled to spiritually or aesthetically question it. Most poets appropriate time and substance in an imperious manner. Zagajewski is a superior poet because of his humility and quiet stupefaction in the presence of presence. Ego has been left far behind, in some dismal place where language is withered and mirrors are mundane.
Zagajewski’s poem below happens in a place that belongs to others. Owing to unfamiliarity, the poet experiences the surfaces of things with a metaphysical intensity. More than the everyday is reflected in this poetic mirror of thrice looking.
In Strange Towns
for Zbigniew Herbert
In strange towns there is an unknown joy,
the cold bliss of a new glance.
Yellow-plastered tenements where the sun
climbs like a nimble spider
exist, yet not for me. Not for me are the town-hall,
port, jail, and courthouse built.
The sea flows through the town in a salty
tide, sinking cellars and verandas.
At a street market, pyramids of apples
stand for the eternity of one afternoon.
And even suffering isn’t really
mine; a local idiot mumbles
in a foreign tongue, and the despair of a lonely
girl in a café resembles a patch
of canvas in a poorly lit museum.
Huge flags of trees flutter as in familiar places,
and pieces of the same lead-weights
are sewn to the hems of sheets, and to dreams,
and to imagination, which is homeless and wild.
Copyright © 1989, Adam Zagajewski
Translated by Renata Gorczynski and Benjamin Ivry