Charles Simic, “Miracle Glass Co.”

Miracle Glass Co.
Charles Simic

Heavy mirror carried
Across the street,
I bow to you
And to everything that appears in you,
Momentarily
And never again the same way:

This street with its pink sky,
Row of gray tenements,
A lone dog,
Children on rollerskates,
Woman buying flowers,
Someone looking lost.

In you, mirror framed in gold
And carried across the street
By someone I can’t even see,
To whom, too, I bow.

Comment:

A mirror is carried across a street. For some reason, the speaker bows to it and composes this ode.

It looks like he sees himself in the mirror. But seeing yourself is seeing more than yourself. The mirror is “heavy,” weighted with more than just him (“everything that appears in you”). It not only captures objects, but time (“momentarily… [each object is] never again the same way”).

A reflection may be better than memory. It is situated in the present in a way memories aren’t. Memories can be loaded with the things we tell ourselves over and over again. They can distort our self-perception. To see a reflection, though, invites another problem. What one sees might not make any sense.

After all, our speaker locates himself as “lost.” This is after his vision moves from the sky (“sky, tenements”) to the ground (“dog”) to the things at eye level (“children, woman”), the things that resemble him. Those of his species are in motion, the sky and tenements are in their place. With the potential of motion, alone, his reflection leads him to a dog.

I think I can explain this poem’s intimations of divinity (“miracle,” “framed in gold,” bowing). Maybe I can even clarify the more general problem. The search to see yourself, to know your place in the world, requires that you try to see beyond yourself. This is possible, and you can get reflections that capture reality exactly. The problem is that you can barely do anything with these things; you’re like an animal trapped by the rationality you think you need.

Making things stranger is this: the effort is not without value. You’re in a situation where your own humanity is questionable, but you’re the one who questioned it. This invites the divine, as someone certainly stands above you (“someone I can’t even see”). We could say that God holds a mirror to us, and there’s an invitation to humility here, but that does not fit the tone of this poem. It’s more like you’re pursuing your own humanity and not quite realizing it. The miracle is that the speaker realizes that two someones – a reflection, a guy carrying the mirror across the street – are himself, not himself, and a complete mystery.