Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror
Excerpt (first 57 lines) from Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror (1975)
As Parmigianino did it, the right hand Bigger than the head, thrust at the viewer And swerving easily away, as though to protect What it advertises. A few leaded panes, old beams, Fur, pleated muslin, a coral ring run together In a movement supporting the face, which swims Toward and away like the hand Except that it is in repose. It is what is Sequestered. Vasari says, “Francesco one day set himself To take his own portrait, looking at himself for that purpose In a convex mirror, such as is used by barbers… He accordingly caused a ball of wood to be made By a turner, and having divided it in half and Brought it to the size of the mirror, he set himself With great art to copy all that he saw in the glass,” Chiefly his reflection, of which the portrait Is the reflection once removed. The glass chose to reflect only what he saw Which was enough for his purpose: his image Glazed, embalmed, projected at a 180-degree angle. The time of day or the density of the light Adhering to the face keeps it Lively and intact in a recurring wave Of arrival. The soul establishes itself. But how far can it swim out through the eyes And still return safely to its nest? The surface Of the mirror being convex, the distance increases Significantly; that is, enough to make the point That the soul is a captive, treated humanely, kept In suspension, unable to advance much farther Than your look as it intercepts the picture. Pope Clement and his court were “stupefied” By it, according to Vasari, and promised a commission That never materialized. The soul has to stay where it is, Even though restless, hearing raindrops at the pane, The sighing of autumn leaves thrashed by the wind, Longing to be free, outside, but it must stay Posing in this place. It must move As little as possible. This is what the portrait says. But there is in that gaze a combination Of tenderness, amusement and regret, so powerful In its restraint that one cannot look for long. The secret is too plain. The pity of it smarts, Makes hot tears spurt: that the soul is not a soul, Has no secret, is small, and it fits Its hollow perfectly: its room, our moment of attention. That is the tune but there are no words. The words are only speculation (From the Latin speculum, mirror): They seek and cannot find the meaning of the music. We see only postures of the dream, Riders of the motion that swings the face Into view under evening skies, with no False disarray as proof of authenticity. But it is life englobed. One would like to stick one’s hand Out of the globe, but its dimension, What carries it, will not allow it.