‘Look both ways before you cross yourself. Gaze first at the hills in the picture
and then at the picture made by the hills.’
Eureka! The crackpot scientist brandishes his formula: seven shards of
light at right angles to flowing water. Only by running around the back of
his mind could he take his panoptic self-portrait. Each morning he checks
deep into the corners for stowaways. In the green tank hangs a fish
shimmering beyond the reach of artifice, waiting to regain its soul shape.
1st – The Mirror of Illusion
Despite global axes we relate to an object locally. Up and down are the
same in both systems. Rotation is a fiction of our body’s left-right
symmetry. Raise your north hand: your reflection does the same. Right
and left; cardinal points. The mirror’s strangeness is down to language.
2nd – The Mirror of Beauty
The frame’s wrinkles accumulate a detritus of process, drifting like sand.
The eye, trained in compassion, smiles at beauty tiptoeing inwards, the
seasons truthfully turning. What’s seen can never be unseen; what’s stale
can never be fresh again. Entropy: a new cream for rejuvenating the mind.
3rd – The Accidental Mirror
It’s perilous in the urban battlefield: you catch yourself out in a fusillade
of light, a stranger suddenly revealed as your surrogate, caught unawares.
Your mind is clouds around disfiguring lightning. There’s a rip in
the camouflage net of the high street – instantly mended and forgotten.
4th – The Forsaken Mirror
It’s obvious, you can’t stay inside yourself all day, polishing your axioms.
Time-limit your reflection. Self-regard is a gateway, like having to undress
behind a bush before swimming. Don the silver head-wings. Spread them
in the threat position if you must. Then relax into the self-created dream.
5th – The Mermaid’s Mirror
The comb and mirror are vital: what else could she do with her hands?
Metamorphosis travels upwards from the tail fin to the intertidal zone of
the midriff. A schoolgirl in mermaid costume, perched on a rock for the
prince’s helicopter fly-past, evaluates the fading love bite on her neck.
6th – The Rearview Mirror
The mirror is always our guardian, our third eye, as when a bear obscures
the sun behind us while we drink from the pond, or when a new lover
looms, his chest a rampant creeper, hands outstretched to settle on your
shoulders. How else control the rebellious third child at the family table?
All six – The Cosmic Mirror
There’s a personal flow and there’s a cosmic order. The salmon may be
landed in its ladder or loved in the arc of its exuberance. Think of the self,
analogous. The orchestra’s finest moment is the point of break-up. The
toyless pram, marooned in the street, overflows with musical tears.
‘Alphabetical seating arrangements at the police academy encourage alphabetical
groups of friends, with congestion in address books.’
A mishap in the tanning booth leaves him with an over-tanned front and
pale back. It will be slow to fade, though his back can be darkened if he’ll
risk the machine again. This duo – left-brain and right-brain bromance –
work all night on their script, vibrant with tanning lore, baseball history,
coffee shop capers. They mount the stage together at the comedy awards.
1st – The Temporary Friends
He looks each way through his perplexing lens – at the student bar, at
the stately pile. Down for the weekend, they have emptied decanters in the
library, searched for a faux book about trout fishing, with money inside.
Gravely he accepts from Pa the Remington he used to write his memoirs.
2nd – The Friend and Colleague
A checked shirt discomforts striped and plain alike – striped being
honorary vanilla. Convention retention bows to the powers that be. Yet
brilliance sparks off any unexpectedness, like a drill bit glancing off
a diamond. All this is careless talk, without which careful talk will plod.
3rd – The Friends Who Have Shared the Darkness
They have run around in battle without their chainmail, screaming; yet
have known poetry flying the beautiful Hooey. And still they carry the
risks, the psychic scars. Entering a public toilet, he too has to kick open
the doors of all the cubicles before being able to turn his back at the urinal.
4th – The Friends of Track and Field
The coin notorious for breaking asunder, with a cupro-nickel centre and a
nickel-brass surround, inspires their brainwave. One came first, the other
second, in the greatest race of their lives – but the judges got it wrong.
Melting down their gold and silver medals, they mint two equal hybrids.
5th – The Fair-weather Friends
The hotel terrace is a court, the jury outside in the sun. The toxicology
of opprobrium is still not fully understood. How will she find a husband,
calibrating the stars for three years and still ending up without a degree?
How will she take her place in the yoke of the wagon of endurance?
6th – Friends of the Penultimate Days
Smiles seed in the ruins of infrastructure. Winter’s broken thermometers
litter the old holloways – the trade routes, the highways to an old
sweetheart. Sarcasm becomes competitive, before collapsing back on itself
in empathy, defying the dog days’ dental records, the world’s snarl.
All six – The Friend from the Pool of Youth
A face half familiar on the college lawn, a light intelligence. Then memory
dawns: the architectural conservationist, famous for illicit turf dwellings
vandalised by reactionaries. Though never close, they have swum in a
pool of golden light, and droplets fall from them still at their reunion.
‘There is nothing to be gained, not even justice, by putting on trial the moth that
has eaten the tapestry. It warrants the same amnesty as a rust moth.’
Our own lives may seem crepuscular in the wisdom of a warm summer
night. Yet the dust on Castaneda’s moth, loose on its powdery wing, is no
dull shower of bookish sediment but quick bright knowledge shaken from
a vita breva – the Latin taking flight from common parlance, beating itself
ragged against a scholar’s lamp, too desperate to give up the ghost.
1st – The Moth of Reason
As Darwinists are drawn to a Bunsen flame, creationists are born again in
Jerusalem. Forget black morphs on sooty chimneys: white ones on bark
stripped of lichen are blatant to birds. The research was flawed. Many
were placed on trunks in daylight; some were dead, and glued there.
2nd – The Moth Migration
Capitol Hill, with its floodlit flagpole and rotunda, is a lightning rod
for seasonal panic. Once a year Parliament is infested: a lift jams, fire
alarms are triggered. In cafés many drown in saucers of tea. At the opera
house pale agitated high notes enliven the soprano in her spotlight.
3rd – The Names of the Moth
The anthology par excellence, beyond criticism, is a selection of our
macro moth names, with plates or the memory of plates. Swallow
prominent, Angle shades, The drinker, Feathered thorn, Oak lutestring,
Powdered quaker, Dingy shears – Miltonic in the hedgerows of Paradise.
4th – The Clothes Moth
Nordic sweater patterns – stylised derricks, spouting whales – replace
tartans this far north of the clan line. Moths are like postcards from
a lowland aunt, unread till she’s passed away. A fashionista better half
calculates that if there’s wool around, maybe they won’t eat silk.
5th – The Death’s-head Hawkmoth
Many of the sightings in the city that year were prompted by shrieks,
which some believed to be the death cries the braveheart king had
stoppered in his throat at the Tower. Often they sneaked past the guards in
hives, mimicking the scent of bees while gluttonising nectar and honey.
6th – The Moth in Heat
A squadron trapped in the revolving doors of the west campus, catching an
irresistible puff of molecules, the pheromone plume, hurriedly they fling
themselves a country mile to a female in the hanging position, wings ajar
to expose her abdomen’s hind end, urgent glistening gland extruded.
All six – The Moth Campaign
From a mini-cosmos of harm falls a rain of toxic caterpillar hairs, onto dog
walkers, nature lovers. A helicopter scutters low over the oak wood but not
until after the school run. In the event, collateral damage is limited
to nature: White admiral, Silver-washed fritillary, Scarlet tiger moth.
‘That was no lipstick: it was a chip she’d dipped in ketchup. A tiara would have been
the height of vulgarity.’
Imagine if her buckle spelled ‘Peace’ or bore the Toyota glyph
unwittingly; or she named her daughter Toya. Not on your royal jelly! The
palace is omniscient these days. Even the secret tattoo is chronicled and
parsed, and indeed is the subject of a no less secret report. Anxiety,
however, is devolved: that’s the business of the royal household.
1st – The Future Princess
She fences deftly with her moral tutor, a feminist luminary, expert in
literary economics. Meeting His Holiness at a charity disco, she makes an
indelible impression. A provocative and compelling Titania, she dislikes
her Bottom, a mechanical roué on the make, seducing himself on stage.
2nd – The Princess in Love
Much in the public eye, the young lovers smoulder in a restaurant after
weeks apart. He’s in uniform, a colonel still. She adores that asymmetric
smile with its twist of inborn shyness. Security harrumphs. There’s
something on the menu that sounds rude, so of course she has to order it.
3rd – The Frog Princess
The Fabergé barouche or the Waterford landau? While she’s dithering,
the prince makes a bonfire of her frog skin, unaware that her amphibious
probation is only days from full term. A clot of pigeons masks the sun.
Rioters swarm through the Tuileries. The whole world changes hands.
4th – The Princess of Darkness
Fireworks explode in the night: a startled exit from a taxi. The other side is
a private cloud of unknowing, whose raindrops are the only pearls left. A
meteoric alpha commoner has emptied her portfolio, stripping their waltz
of all but the quavers of romance, and making it more passionate.
5th – The Travelling Princess
You swim in her bridal grief-song, a lake of yearning in the forest. There’s
jumping – over a broomstick, a boiling kettle, a bowl of wine and urine.
Two weeks later her train is the longest ever, flowing down the aisle, a
river, out through doors left open all through the ceremony.
6th – The Princess of Charity
A lifeguard for the national gene pool, she enjoys robots designed by
children fighting with each other, bloodlessly. Other kids she weans off
parkour. Raiments of Wicca fluttering still, she turns to animals,
sluicing the manger of the butcher-perfumiers – a clean sweep of fragrance.
All six – The Intimate Princess
The young pretender’s underlook is the apparatus of sincerity, the crown
jewels of suffering. The princess steps nimbly onto the high wire,
embarrassing the Commonwealth’s living rooms. Fame forfeits the right to
a net. Magna Carta’s small print is scattered to the four winds.