Not Something in a Magazine

by James Seay

It was intelligent enough, what the photographer had been saying
as I drifted out the door. Something about Susanne Langer on
That there was as much for me in the moon and stars
tilting in the oval mirror I held at angles to the summer sky
is a measure of nights and days with so little glamour
I’d just as soon forget how I tried first to find my face
in the mirror mounted on the stranger’s dresser,
left for some reason overnight in the yard across from the party I’d
Yard sale, fresh paint, bad memories, I don’t know why.
What I remember, after the cliché of self seen in shadow and silhouette,
is turning the mirror on its hinges heavenward
and standing there shifting from one oval of night to another.
Readings have come to take the place of genuine witness,
she said in her book, referring to the reflectors and signals of science
and how the finality of sense-data was the cue of a former epoch.
The week before I’d watched the clerk at the hardware store
hammer out my name a letter at a time on a brass tag for my dog
and as he neared the end I realized I was following his hand
letter by letter with the notion that he was pulling the alphabet
that would spell me in a different way to the dream I had of myself.
But the final die, Y, came from between the X and Z I’d always
I didn’t mean by glamour something in a magazine.
At its roots it draws on knowing and mystery circling within desire
like a system almost, but constant only in its moment,
a grammar of signs transformed and transforming.
I know the dreamer over the pool was not a genuine witness
or scientist of the first water, reading himself alone in the mediate
And I know you weren’t out there, pilgrim, with the mirror
horizontal in your hands, panning the oval waters like a fool,
but you understand: maybe something renewable in the skittering
maybe a likeness we could carry back across the street and call our

James Seay was born in Panola County, Mississippi, in 1939. His publications include four collections of poetry (most recently, Open Field, Understory), two limited editions of poetry, and a documentary film about big-game hunting in East Africa, In the Blood (1990), co-written with the film’s director George Butler. His poetry has been selected for inclusion in some thirty anthologies. He has also published essays in general-interest magazines such as Esquire and in literary journals such as Antaeus. From 1987-1997 he served as director of the Creative Writing Program at UNC-CH. His honors include an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and a Bowman and Gordon Gray Professorship (1996-1999) for excellence in undergraduate teaching.