Why Do We See Surfaces?

Why do we sweep, vacuum, dust, and clean countertops? I think that is the basis for some writing and soul searching. Is it because we learned about dirt from our mothers? Is it because we want the infant to be safe from harm?  The questions are numerous and the answers elusive.

In “The Mirror of Wood” the persona becomes dislocated, or perhaps relocated, in the earth. She must “pull her hands/from the tines of the rake.” That is how difficult it is for her to stop this work of cleaning.  The line “Amputations take place” comes early in the piece. Perhaps it is the violin, once attached to her between chin and shoulder. That kind of work would be soul elevating, whereas this other kind of work—and outside version of housecleaning—become soul draining.

The persona says “I am a woman so I sweep.” Yet the wood exists for its own sake. Whether she sweeps or not, more leaves and seed pods will accumulate. Does the seeing play a role? Why does she say “I put on my face.” Isn’t her own face alright without the layer of make up?

Even the piece itself doesn’t stand on its own; it carries the epigraph “after Neruda,” a male poet.

If, after reading this piece, you have any ideas—there is no right or wrong--feel free to post them below.


The Mirror of Wood

                after Neruda

In the mirror of wood
are eyes, hair, a figure
who has lost her violin.

Amputations take place.
In the mirror of wood
there are strings and webs.

I am a woman so I sweep.
Sweep and rake wood and concrete,
my eyes on the sky

that drains, like a shell,
each hue from the color
of what was before.

In the mirror of wood
I see what has not been done.
Old scars, oaths, recriminations—

the earth is yellow with leaves.
Their veins, varicose, tip
and lilt when the rake

picks them up. I pull my hands
from the tines of the rake.
I put on my face.

I am a woman so I rake.
The sound is that of scratching,
not as a cat scratches

at the door to enter,
but as one who knocks
on the earth, finds it hollow,

and continues
to peer beneath its gleaming surface
for clouds, branches, and myths.