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
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
I can’t live with you
But you live
here in my heart
You keep me alive and alert
aware of something missing
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.
- 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.)
- Where is the speaker now? Where does he live? What details about the speaker’s life and interests does the poem tell you
- 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?
- What do you think the speaker feels is “missing”? What is being left up in the air?
- 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?
- 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.)
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