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"The Mirror Poem" by R. Carpease

Intro: Super X Drugstore, Nashville, Tennessee, sometime in 1985. I’m there looking for a six-pack of beer. Passing the magazine aisle I see a familiar figure, his head buried in a paperback book. It’s Phil Merrill, an old friend from college. The last time I had seen him was at our graduation in 1982. Three years seemed like quite a stretch of time in that moment.

Phil was then working as a graveyard-shift short-order cook at a Denny's; I was the credit manager for a large hotel. For the next few years we would get together frequently to drink beer and swap poems — a two-person support group for disillusioned poets stranded in the city. The original Canopic Jar was born as a means of moving beyond the entanglement of such trappings.

During our drinking and poeming sessions we would sometimes scrawl spontaneous lines or stanzas on a legal pad, passing it back and forth like a bottle of cheap gin. If a poem was taking shape, one of us would sit with the thing for a week or so, feeding it and shaping it. The result would be a collaborative poem featuring a leaning toward one voice. “The Mirror Poem,” attributed to R. Carpease and placed in Canopic Jar #2 (1986), was one such poem.

—Phil Rice


R. Carpease

The Mirror Poem

Just atoms, I know, just atoms.

Layers of brick, layers of smoke, of skin.

When we touch there is a slight mesh of fields,

Nothing more, I know.

You know this too.

When I smooth your cheek

Or catch your hair you aren't really there.

This fleshy thing is only an approximation

Of a person I can never know,

However deep I grope through folds of skin

Or hanging memories.

You know all this, too.

Those couplings, those imaginative lusts we shared

Were celebrations of mundanity, exercises,

Things we did to stop the ringing in our ears,

For starvelings cannot think clearly.

Passion is an addictive handicap and love,

Love, how can stations in a relay

Love more than they need each other?

We live in this strange duality.

There are things that must be done

And things that must be done. In every action

there is affirmation and denial.

And yes, I know, I know.

Just specialized groups of atoms

Orbiting a yellow star

Midway down one arm of a misting galaxy.

And I know there is this mirror between us.

I would punch through it,

Slicing knuckles on the shards

Of all these rationalizations to crease your cheek

For a second,

For just a brilliant second.

The mock-up for the cover of Canopic Jar #2 featuring artwork by Hal Rice

(R. Carpease is a pseudonym for P.A. Merrill and Phil Rice)

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