Tuesday, November 17, 2020

'There’s an Other, a Reflection'

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.”


Montez said...

I'm waiting for this moment as well, Mr. Kurp. I'm in my late 20s so I don't expect it to show up anytime soon, but in the back of my mind I expect one day I'll find myself quoting my mother; maybe I won't even realize it until I hear my children start to do the same. Becoming my mother or father is something I've fought and continue to fight–but not in hopes that I'll escape it completely or ultimately–only so that the best parts of my parents carry on and the worse remain history.

Colin Eaton said...

Perhaps what startled you was Hardy's death-defying 'family face'

I am the family face;
Flesh perishes, I live on,
Projecting trait and trace
Through time to times anon,
And leaping from place to place
Over oblivion.

The years-heired feature that can
In curve and voice and eye
Despise the human span
Of durance--that is I;
The eternal thing in man,
That heeds no call to die.