I’ve since learned my experience some thirty years ago is not uncommon. The bathroom was steamy as I got out of the shower. I dried myself with the towel and was using it to wipe condensation from the mirror when I was startled to see my father peering back at me: his big face, high forehead, indifferently trimmed mustache. I felt found out. What I had spent much of my life avoiding had happened. In ways I would prefer to ignore, I was my father. No psychobabble, no talk of “closure,” just a sense that we are, in ways often obscure and elusive, who we come from. Boris Dralyuk has translated three poems from the Russian of the wonderful Julia Nemirovskaya, including “Mirror”:
“My father left me his face
and all that was his to give.
I’ll carry this mirror always –
in it, father still lives.
“My father left me my home
and everything it contains.
I enter for half an hour –
a wasp beats against the panes.
“On his birthday we’ll sit a while,
silently drinking wine.
To live means a life being lived –
not necessarily mine.”
In his response to a comment, Boris describes his relationship with his father as “fraught,” a word that means loaded or burdened. With time, we build the muscles to carry the load, or we finally put it down. Boris also speaks of “the mirroring effect of literature — the way the writing of others reveals us to ourselves.” There are many reasons we read, not all of them selfish. Prominent among them is seeing likeness in difference. I’m no Pierre Bezukhov but part of me is. Borges phrases it like this in “Mirrors” (trans. Alistair Reid):
“The glass is watching us. And if a mirror
hangs somewhere on the four walls of my room,
I am not alone. There’s an other, a reflection
which in the dawn enacts its own dumb show.”