Serving House: A Journal of Literary Arts
  • Home
  • About
  • Archive
  • Bio Notes
  • Bookshelf
  • Contents
  • Submit
1289 words
SHJ Issue 16
Spring 2017

Silver-Back Palindromes: Mirrors

by Skip Eisiminger

I. Mirrors are social media’s main competitor.
The Wordspinner

Walking into a campus dining hall, I noticed that the facility’s plate-glass windows made a fine mirror. After going through the sandwich line, I took a seat behind these same windows and watched faculty and students turning one way or another to reassure themselves. One student stopped, pulled out a large comb, and teased his curls to hemispherical perfection. When he realized that his peers were witnesses to his conceit, he smiled like my grandfather’s mule eating briars and walked on.

From inside a mirror is a fine place to observe our fellows.

II. Birds and the Amish countenance no mirrors.
The Wordspinner

As a cartoonist who cannot draw, I write one-liners and place them in my files. Thus, in the file titled “Self-Love/Mirrors,” you’ll find the following naked captions: as a GI in the barracks is combing his hair while leaning over Pvt. Narcissus who’s trying to shave, the shaver says, “Excuse me, but this is my mirror—please don’t hog it.” Another imagines a nude Echo sitting beside a clothed Narcissus who is peering at his peerless reflection saying, “Now, you turn me on.” Finally, there’s a crow preening in a mirror saying, “I don’t know who this jerk is, but he is studly!”

I know these would be funnier with some artful drawings, but my point is: when the over-riding concern of organisms is their appearance, the commonweal is in trouble.

III. A photograph is a mirror with a memory.
Count Robert de Montesquiou

In June of 1947 while stationed in Germany, my parents hired a sitter for my sister and me and took a short trip to Paris to celebrate Mother’s twenty-seventh birthday. Walking through the Eighth Arrondissement, which was still struggling to get back on its worldly feet, my father noticed an elderly man following them. Fearing some Vichy-sympathizer with a grudge to settle, Dad managed to circle back in a cluster of tourists while Mother gazed at lingerie in a shop window. Dad, who was in the best physical shape of his life after three years of training and a year of war, grabbed their half-starved stalker by the shoulders and demanded to know what he was doing. In broken English, he explained that he was a “poor photographer” and was trying to muster the courage to ask a woman who resembled “Véronique” to pose for him in his studio. Flattered by the attention, Mother agreed but stipulated he had to give her the proofs. Before the couple left Paris, they stopped to admire the pictures “Archie” had placed in his store window.

Seventy years later, one of those photographs is glued in a disintegrating scrapbook. Though I was not present at the picture’s making, I can almost smell the flower Mother wore in her hair as I lean in over the bony shoulder of that “poor photographer” who knew a good subject when he saw it.

IV. The rearview mirror is always clearer than the windshield.
[Paraphrase of] Warren Buffet

One shrunken day just after the world had stopped saving daylight, I had pedaled a few miles to work and back after lunch. Now at dusk, I was climbing to where State 93 crosses over US 76 in two leaves of wilted clover. As I approached this intersection, a white Ford was approaching a yield sign, but with no intention, I surmised, of yielding. Seeing the window was up and having a proprietary interest in the right lane, I yelled at the young driver, “Hey!” Though this saucer-eyed fellow on his phone never opened his mouth, he looked me straight in the face.

I understood the eye contact as recognition of the motorist’s obligation, so I continued with some qualms but no serious thought of my brakes or veering into oncoming traffic. In my rear-view mirror, however, I saw the wedge of his hood encroaching, and thought, “I shouldn’t have yelled.” Soundlessly, his plastic bumper struck my rear wheel, flicking me like a greased seed across the concrete apron of Kelly’s Gulf.

Sometimes looking backwards, as I did in my mirror, whether the motive is curiosity or vanity, one clearly sees what lies ahead. And when the present catches you from behind, it doesn’t matter how clean your windshield is.

V. The self-reliant have little need of mirrors.
The Wordspinner

On the last day of March, I typed, “Objects in mirror are much more beautiful than they may appear—April Fool!” and taped this snippet to the compact mirror my wife carries in her purse.

September has come and gone, and Ingrid still has not used her compact.

VI. The closer we draw to a mirror, the more it is a magnifying glass.
The Wordspinner

After being named “MVP” in a county softball tournament, a former teammate placed the trophy on his mantel. Dwarfed and outnumbered by other items belonging to his wife and children, he installed a mirror above the mantel. When doubling his trophy wasn’t enough, he installed a mirror on the wall opposite from the mantel thus creating an infinite regress.

VII. The more mirrors and the bigger they are, the sooner the owners may celebrate their canonization.
The Wordspinner

After dressing, Madonna often kisses her mirror. Because no training partner was better, Bobby Fischer played chess before a mirror. And in the event the mirrors failed, Zsa Zsa Gabor hung fifteen portraits of herself, second only to the seventeen Elvis hung at Graceland. Perhaps Rodney Dangerfield had the right idea for narcissistic celebrities: after food replaced sex in his life, he moved the mirror over his bed to the dining-room wall. Unfortunately, mirrors reverse neither weight-gain, aging, nor the unwarranted regard we have for ourselves.

VIII. If you can’t be the candle, be the mirror that reflects it.
Paraphrase of Edith Wharton

Though she was instructed not to, Lt. Kay Brown decided to pack a small mirror when she deployed to Afghanistan in 2002. She took no make-up, but the prospect of not seeing her face for a year was more than she could face. She could only hope no one would find her pink-plastic mirror.

One moonless night, she found herself among twenty GIs in a black-ops helicopter. They were flying into some remote outpost in Kandahar when her CO yelled, “Does anyone have a mirror? The goddamn batteries in my flashlight have died!” Kay hesitated to reflect attention on herself, but she knew the lives of all on board might be hanging on the captain’s ability to acknowledge the LZ sender’s light, so she pulled out her mirror, and passed it down the line. “Thanks,” said the captain. “I won’t ask whose non-regulation-but-very-cute mirror this is, but some rules are made to be broken.”

IX. “If I go forward in time fifty years and look in a mirror, will I be seventy or a hundred and twenty?
The Wordspinner

The mercury-backed mirror introduced in Italy in the sixteenth century soon replaced the water-in-the-shallow-black bowls of antiquity. Unless people could afford a portrait, this technological marvel afforded most humans their first good look at themselves. The multiple self-portraits of Dürer and Rembrandt were a direct result of these marvels. As with most innovations, however, there were unintended consequences and unforeseen uses: when Native Americans in the terminal throes of smallpox saw their ravaged faces, they often committed suicide. Death, the survivors learned, could be confirmed by placing this shiny bauble below the nostrils and searching for the fog of life.

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury