Hall of Mirrors

To Kristin Lems

 

We miss something now

as we think about it

Let’s see: eat, sleep & dream, read

A good book, by Robert Stone

Be alone

 

Knew of it first

in New York City. Couldn’t find it

in Ann Arbor, though

I like it here

Had to go back to New York

Found it on the Upper West Side

there

 

I can’t live with you

But you live

here in my heart

You keep me alive and alert

aware of something missing

going on

 

I woke up today just in time

to introduce a poet

then to hear him read his rhymes

so unlike mine           & not bad

as I’d thought another time

 

no breakfast, so no feeling fine.

 

Then I couldn’t find the party, afterwards

then I did

then I talked with you.

 

Now it’s back

& a good thing for us

It’s letting us be wise, that’s why

it’s being left up in the air

You can see it, there

as you look, in your eyes

 

Now it’s yours & now it’s yours & mine.

We’ll have another look, another time.

Ted Berrigan, “Hall of Mirrors” from The Collected Poems of Ted Berrigan. Copyright © 2005 by The Regents of the University of California. Reprinted by permission of the University of California Press.

Dive in 
  1. This poem is addressed to an old friend or former love — we don’t know the exact nature of their relationship, but we do sense the intimacy between them. What does the poem tell you about the speaker’s feelings for the person to whom he is speaking? (Presumably Kristen Lems, as Berrigan dedicated the poem to her.)
  2. Where is the speaker now? Where does he live? What details about the speaker’s life and interests does the poem tell you
  3. The poet says “Knew of it first / in New York City. Couldn’t find it / in Ann Arbor, though / I like it here” — though we can’t know for sure what “it” is, what do you imagine it to be?
  4. What do you think the speaker feels is “missing”? What is being left up in the air?
  5. If you were going to recite the poem, where would you pause? How would you emphasize the musical interplay between the words like “rhymes”  “mine”  and “time”? What tone would you use for this poem?
  6. Write a poem to someone who you used to feel very close to but who you no longer see. What would it be like to see them now? Even if things ended badly, imagine extending compassion toward this person and feeling connected without feeling attached. You can also experiment with ending the poem with a rhyming or slant-rhyming couplet. (A slant rhyme is when two words share the same vowel sound, but end with a different consonant sound; you can hear the resonance between the words “mine” and “time” even though they don’t click the same way “mine” and, say, “line” do.)

Useful Links

See footage from Ron Mann’s excellent documentary Poetry in Motion of the poet Ted Berrigan reading this poem in the “infinity room” at the storied Poetry Project at St Marks Church on the Bowery in NYC: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IJ5s9C42YcM