Looking Through a Window Through a Mirror

Tonight the sky—two glass panes
pushing blue into each other—

blue the evening thinks of, turning
into itself before sleep.

There’s not enough light
to separate

the original. Which
should I believe?

Our bed’s navy melancholy,
streaked sheets, smudges on pillows.

The absence of your breath
guiding mine

to sleep. I’ll wait for the moon
to rise in its tarnished polish—

dusk is not the word.

-Elizabeth Ross

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My former student Elizabeth Ross’s poems seem, to me, to inhabit a transition zone. They are often situated in ordinary domestic moments, but it’s as if there’s a little swinging door inside them and the reader finds herself stepping first to one side, then another as the poet switches views. Liz, herself, is rooted in this stance—a trustworthy observer of the goings on, a witness to the troublesome aspects of the ultimately impenetrable nature of the symbolical, and the potential razor-thin splinter of ice within the commonplace: this is subtle, and a too-quick reader might miss it; but it’s always there to make the gentle meditative robe of the poem’s language feel a wee bit uncomfortable.

Looking through a window through a mirror makes us think, immediately of a painting and a moment of self-reflection and (of course) of uncertainty as to what is real. The poem is a little dozy, just going off to bed, but the poet lets us know there’s an unusual, intentional consciousness involved and that what it forces for the poet is the necessity of choice: ‘Which should I believe?’ I don’t know, in fact, quite which she means by ‘the original’—is it separating the mirror from the sky when the sky is reflected in the mirror? But this makes the mirror ‘the original’ which raises further complexities. And I certainly don’t know what to believe—but the poet’s answer is in the details about the bedding and its suggestions of sexual, tearful, heartache. Someone’s gone. I know I could choose to read this romantically—but the mirroring and lack of light warn me not to. To answer the belief question the poet says she’ll wait—for the moon (what else would a poet wait for) to be clear about what’s what in all those reflections. But what kind of ‘answer’ would that be? What, possibly, could embody more deception than the ‘polish’ of a tarnished moon?

The last line is both stray and perfect: I’m not going to try to explicate—but it sends me dizzyingly back and forth through the little door I mentioned until I feel the ambiguities of this moment, caught –sandwiched—between two pushing blue panes and with the knowledge of what has happened in that bed off to one side, incomplete but very real.

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Marilyn Bowering Marilyn is an award-winning novelist, poet and playwright whose first novel, To All Appearances A Lady, was a New York Times Notable Book of 1990. She was born in Winnipeg and grew up in Victoria, BC. She has lived in the United States, Greece, Scotland, Spain: she now makes her home on Vancouver Island.

www.marilynbowering.com

Elizabeth Ross’s poetry has appeared in The Antigonish Review, Contemporary Verse 2, the Vancouver International Writers Festival website, and is forthcoming in The Malahat Review. She was the 2009/10 poetry editor of PRISM international and completed her MFA at UBC. She just moved to Toronto and is a sessional instructor at OCAD University.

elizabethross.ca/blog