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Katherine Indermauer

from “Facing the Mirror”

Totally self-contained is what we call beautiful1. A frame around a mirror.

The frame severs what’s inside from the whole. Your standing here is the only thing that keeps the whole known, the context alive. The living reflection.

As a child I stood staring at the reflection of my eyes in the bathroom mirror switching off and on the overhead light. In the on position: the quick closing of the center of my black point eyes, the shock of light swelling the blue. In the off: the center growing dark open to dark open, like ears hoping to listen.

To see your own eyes is to gaze straight out at the lag rooted in the loop of light from mind to mirror and back. If I blinked quickly enough, I could sometimes catch a glimpse of my eyes completely shut. See a split second of the past before it merged back into me.

The mirrors used in telescopes to magnify and focus light are paraboloids, bowls of light. Their centers are sagitta2, from the Latin for arrow. That piercing quality of reflected light.

Memory is a mirror with ambition. I close my eyes, afraid to resemble3.

Mirror. From the Latin mirare/mirari meaning to look at or to be surprised, to look at with wonder. Mirror and miracle are cousins from wonder.

To mirror. To mimic exactly. Two margins and the air between them. And the light to cleave them.

Mirrors believe in the surfaces of objects. Surfaces are enough, are all.

Mirror miracle. Christian pilgrims in the seventeenth century bring with them small hand-mirrors and hold them up to sacred relics4, to the light, to the angle of light to their eyes. They briefly capture the sacred within the frame, and that is enough. The mirror is thought to hold all its past visions. The mirror is thought to remember all it’s seen.

In our new house, the closet doors in the bedroom are made of four folding panels. Each is its own mirror, floor-to-almost-ceiling. When I pull back the doors to open them, the inner two face each other, creating a space in which I see myself more than once, at once. It is almost too much seeing, the gaze extended—the shape of my nose; my hair always a little less straight on the back of my head; a large, dark freckle on the back of my left thigh—and yet, I wonder how people got by for so many years without it.

A mirror surrounds you with Self. Leaving the room is not an escape; you take your image with you the way pilgrims’ hand-mirrors were wont to take part of everything they see, especially if it was holy. Hand-mirrors like little minds, little cameras.

Leaving the room is only closing the shutter of the mind’s camera. The photograph has already been taken. The image is already there.

The first successful photographs were etched by light on mirrors. Louis Jacque Mandé Daguerre discovered that one could use silver plates treated with mercury vapor to develop an image. Daguerre, father of the of daguerreotype: silver memory mirrors5.

Clarity can be distilled from matter is a belief we hold when looking. Not how it is, but how it looks. And this looking is a truer thing than the thing itself. Just like language is a truer telling than the thing could do for itself.

When photography was invented and began to appear in news reporting in the late 1800s, there was great hope in its realness, its trueness. People couldn’t lie with photography. In his 1840 news article titled “The Daguerreotype,” Edgar Allan Poe claimed the photograph would “afford an absolute perspective of objects.”

“Perhaps,” he said, “if we imagine the distinctness with which an object is reflected in a positively perfect mirror, we come as near the reality as by any other means.” An absolute perspective on reality.

By the early 1860s, photographer William Mumler was creating spirit photographs. He’d take a person’s portrait and, after some time in the darkroom, he’d return with a print of the person and a faint ghost hovering over them.

Perhaps trueness is less distinct than we hope for, less absolute than we want to believe.

People love to lie with mirrors. Take something made for honesty, trick it into illusion. Appearance, disappearance. Hovering.

C used to work on the first floor of a glass office downtown. The windows to her office were only windows from the inside. On the outside, mirrors. On the outside, passersby leaning in to pluck a hair, adjust themselves. Unbeknownst to them, C sat on the other side, inches away from where these strangers leaned in, checking for private faults to fix.

A window embedded in a mirror means light from one direction passes through; from the opposite direction, it reflects. All light eventually moves in the same direction. Away.

Our faces are their opposites in a mirror. It is a culturally universal fact that more symmetrical faces are more beautiful. Symmetrical faces are not altered by the mirror.

I taught myself to look pretty in a mirror. I taught myself sexy in a mirror. I learned beauty by error and error and error. The mirror taught me to look very, very closely.

Every morning I paint my self-portrait. I paint myself soft and pink. I am my own three-dimensional portrait. I layer me on. Mirrors have the tiresome effect of not getting in the way.

In determining where we experience ourselves, a simple test related to mirror images may be used. Try writing the number 3 on the forehead of your lover with your finger when their eyes are closed. Ask your lover, What do you see in your mind? Is it a 3, or an ε? If they see it as an ε, the implication is that it is being seen from a psychological Self inside their head. If it is seen as the number 3, their psychological Self is in front of their face. There is some evidence that more men than women see themselves from the outside—from in front of their faces—as though they have mirrors watching their own expressions, how they appear to others6.

Now that you know the trick to discerning where one experiences the Self, the irony is that you can’t do it to your Self. You’ve seen too much. The trick has been revealed. Reveal, from the Latin revēlāre, to remove the covering from, unveil, to raise the lid of, open. To let the light in. To see for the first time.

My lover was sitting on the couch and I asked him to close his eyes. I stepped between his legs and lifted his hair to draw a 3 on his forehead with my index finger, slowing through the loops. I asked him what he saw there. He opened his eyes and said It depends. I said No, I mean what did you see there, like, initially. What was your first impulse.

He said I’m telling you my first impulse was It depends.

Letters are their opposites in a mirror. Each letter’s opposite is its sonic opposite as well. The sonic opposite of every letter is pure silence. The sonic opposite of every letter is every letter sounding the same.

You open your mouth and say anything in the mirror and the mirror says nothing, no matter how long you listen. Speech reflected is its absence. The mouth opens and opens and closes and closes and.

1 From C. Dylan Bassett’s The Invention of Monsters / Plays for the Theatre, Plays Inverse Press, 2015.
3 From Rosmarie Waldrop’s The Reproduction of Profiles, 1984.
4 From Paul Olding’s 56-minute episode for PBS’s How We Got to Now series, “Glass” (2014).
5 From Richard Gregory’s Mirrors in Mind, W. H. Freeman and Company, 1997.
6 Ibid.

Katherine Indermaur
is the author of the chapbook Pulse (Ghost City Press, 2018). Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in AlpinistBad PonyBorderlands: Texas Poetry ReviewCALAMITYFrontier PoetryMuse /A JournalPoetry SouthVoicemail Poems, and elsewhere. An MFA candidate at Colorado State University, where she won the 2018 Academy of American Poets Prize, she is the managing editor for Colorado Review.