You can go beyond skin-deep and still be looking for love in all the wrong places.
My mirrors are becoming windows.
In you, I look out.
Lines from a poem I wrote some time in the 1980’s. Can’t exactly recall what or who may have inspired them, but I like the sensibility they refer to, that a mirror can be used for more than just reflecting one’s own image. There’s also a bit of scrying in such sentiments, yet it wasn’t predictions I was alluding to, more an intimacy and understanding, an ability to see not only with another’s eyes, but to feel with another’s soul.
At the top of the stairs in my apartment, next to an overloaded gold coat stand (really need to put some of those jackets away), is a full length dime store mirror that cost around ten bucks. When the wiring doesn’t come loose, it is attached to the front of the bathroom door, a door usually kept open for air and warmth circulation except when company comes. You see, I don’t want them to catch my drift.
When I found the mirror and carted it home, the top part of its imitation rococo bronze frame was broken off so I put an assortment of feathers, artificial autumn leaves and thin red branches in the slot. Sometimes I think of “September Song” when I chance to look into it, a reminder that “the days dwindle down to precious few”, thus enjoy them best as you can. Mostly though, I put it in its current location, at the end of another small hall, to give a sense of enlargement to the place.
Above the mirror is a small newsprint film still from Jean Cocteau’s 1946 masterpiece, Beauty and The Beast. Set in 1946, in a ravaged Paris at the tail end of WW II rebuilding its culture through the French director’s use of fantasy and magic, the re-telling of an old fairy tale. I love this old black and white classic, so revolutionary and influential in technique.
It was as a kid the first time I saw it on a local PBS station and, having come in before the opening sequence, I really had no idea what I was looking at. Of course it didn’t help that my family’s TV, which only got three stations, was not only also black and white, but had a continuous gray blip running through it due to the electric fence we used to keep in the cows.
Growing up on a farm there were occasions when one of us on would be on the phone or doing dishes and would just happen to see a cow looking back in at us through the window. Sometimes that’s how we knew the fence was down, but the other clue was if the TV’s reception was exceptionally clear. Damn, just when we’d finally found a good program to watch. Time to go bring in the herd.
In any case, through the fuzziness of the set came the furry face of the beast, his eyes a lighter wolf’s gray seeming to burn beyond the screen. Spellbound, even while not understanding a word of French and hardly able to read the white subtitles, I nevertheless sat on the floor and watched the whole movie. Such was the power and mastery of Cocteau’s craft. The symbolism of mirrors figures largely in Cocteau’s work. Both in Beauty and the Beast and his Orpheus trilogy, mirrors act as doors, gateways to secret passages and other worlds. I don’t suppose it was necessarily healthy for me to have been such a Wonderland Alice at such an early age, feeding a naïve romanticism that it’s taken a lifetime of dashed crushes to wake from the narcolepsy of, but I do like the idea of a parallel universe being just on the mirror’s other side. It gives one a sense of hope that maybe elsewhere things are different, similar, yes, but hopefully better.
The face of the Beast is something I’ve also created as a mask which hangs in my living room. At the time I was repairing a plaster cast of my face done years before in high school. I was using electrical tape, the handy artisan’s secret tool, and the more I applied the more the Beast evolved.
I finished it off with black marker, silver glitter glue and copper model paint, amazed that I must have been carrying the Beast inside of myself all along.
Truth is I was never too thrilled by his transformation to Prince at the end of the story. I always thought the Beast was just fine as he was. Sure, his eating habits did leave something to be desired, but he was always so apologetic and ashamed of himself, so lacking in healthy self-esteem despite his capacity for magic, that how could one not be moved? If only one could get him to love himself, ah, that was the ticket.
Of course that, for me, was the danger of believing in a fable, and attempting to repeat it in reality again and again.
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Photo: Getty Images
Additional image by the author from his book 31 Kisses