Further Surveillance

Polished sand falls through
an ageless hourglass.
Or is this just another lustrous lake
wishing for more sky?
Planetary mercury roils & rolls,
melts into its solitary self with no warning
of ill-fortune or unreturned love
as virtue becomes redundant.

Beyond the outward seeming,
whose side are you on anyway?
Once we’re informed of secret plots
and possible treasonous invasions,
let’s simply murder our predecessors,
reflect on the falling of the great,
and banish every faithless maiden.

Looking longer, we don’t like what we’re seeing.
And we don’t have to ask how we’re doing.
Older than we remember, who we might’ve been
checks out our chances.
Is this the best present we can give,
forgive, or live through?

By now our mirror seems to be taking
a short vacation from itself—
flattering us by pretending
we aren’t still watching.

Questions and Answers

Do you use any resources that a young poet would find useful (e.g. books, films, art, websites, etc.)?

I have a shelf full of reference books and dictionaries. Some of these were acquired in my university days, while others have adopted me since. The cliché is true: You have to be a reader to be a good writer. Learning how to develop, evolve, and deploy what you’ve read is the essence of craft. But we’re bombarded with mass information, so there has to be a time when you turn it off. And directly address the challenge of the original.

How did your writing process unfold across this poem? How did you write, edit, and refine it?

This poem, originally called “Looking Longer,” is a description of an aging couple confronting themselves in the mirror as they get ready for bed. But it didn’t have much resonance beyond the obvious. Nothing at stake. So I put it aside. Meanwhile, I looked up “Mirrors” in Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. I discovered that our literary relationship to mirrors has spawned a rich mythology spanning a wide range of eras and cultures, forever entwining the public and the personal. How could I use this rich history to set up the old couple?

Our privacy is being assailed and invaded everywhere these days, and I wanted a vehicle to explore this on a private level. So I rethought the piece, starting with the mystery of mirrors, inside and out. Any notion of “fairness” insists on equanimity as well as beauty. Still, I hoped to get beyond appearances. I wanted my approach to be pragmatic rather than dreamy. And then there’s Edgar Allan Poe: “All that we see or seem,” he wrote, “is but a dream within a dream.” After all, true mirrors emphasize reality by limiting what we might imagine.

This poem “Further Surveillance” originally appeared in Emerging Scholars, Redux Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 242 (2020): 79.

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