A Brief History of Mirrors

Every semester my poetry prof. assigns something he calls a “fascination object” poem. In the past I have chosen things like a weathervane or a Jerusalem Cricket (aka potato bug); this time I chose a mirror. I found an Encyclopedia Brittanica entry on the history of mirrors – much is borrowed from that entry, so I guess this is really a found poem as well as a fascination object poem.

Whenever life gets overwhelming, I look through NASA's photos of cosmic beings like this jellyfish nebula. It makes the laundry less daunting.


As a small child she remembered
pulling the mirror down with the linen
cloth on her grandmother’s vanity, and
how it shattered on the floor; she
recalled staring at the scattered shards,
the surprised look of a hundred
identical faces trapped in a plane,
gazing back in wonder; she wondered
who was the real Asteria.

She learned certain things about
the history of mirrors, such as:
when light falls on a body, some
quantity of light is reflected, some
is absorbed, and some is transmitted
through the body; a mirror works
by virtue of smoothness, or else the
light will be scattered, diffused,
and lost to the blackness of space.

She learned certain things about
the history of stars, such as:
the light from the Sun, the
closest star, reaches earth in eight
and three tenths minutes; yet, other
stars are so far away they have
already died by the time their distant
light reaches the small mirrors
inside the telescopes on Earth.

When she was grown, Asteria broke
a mirror and glued the small pieces
to her body; she walked about
under the bright Sun for many days
in the hopes that the light of her fading life
might travel across the cosmos
with a chance of being seen by a
young girl on a distant planet who might
mistake Asteria for a very small star.


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