Tricks with MIRRORS

Tricks with Mirrors


It’s no coincidence

this is a used

furniture warehouse.

I enter with you

and become a mirror.


are the perfect lovers,

that’s it, carry me up the stairs

by the edges, don’t drop me,

that would be bad luck,

throw me on the bed

reflecting side up,

fall into me,

it will be your own

mouth you hit, firm and glassy,

your own eyes you find you

are up against closed closed


There is more to a mirror

than you looking at

your full-length body

flawless but reversed,

there is more than this dead blue

oblong eye turned outwards to you.

Think about the frame.

The frame is carved, it is important,

it exists, it does not reflect you,

it does not recede and recede, it has limits

and reflections of its own.

There’s a nail in the back

to hang it with; there are several nails,

think about the nails,

pay attention to the nail

marks in the wood,

they are important too.


Don’t assume it is passive

or easy, this clarity

with which I give you yourself.

Consider what restraint it

takes: breath withheld, no anger

or joy disturbing the surface

of the ice.

You are suspended in me

beautiful and frozen, I

preserve you, in me you are safe.

It is not a trick either,

it is a craft:

mirrors are crafty.


I wanted to stop this,

this life flattened against the wall,

mute and devoid of colour,

built of pure light,

this life of vision only, split

and remote, a lucid impasse.

I confess: this is not a mirror,

it is a door

I am trapped behind.

I wanted you to see me here,

say the releasing word, whatever

that may be, open the wall.

Instead you stand in front of me

combing your hair.


You don’t like these metaphors.

All right:

Perhaps I am not a mirror.

Perhaps I am a pool.

Think about pools.

Margaret Atwood

Someone once said to me, “There is no big picture, only your reality.” This concept took me a very long time to grasp. The fact that my reality differs from yours and that both are valid and true was very difficult for me to understand. I have often blurred the boundaries of separate realities – it is very easy for me to step into the shoes of another. However, the path to true connection lies in understanding this concept- entering another person’s reality and being there, while knowing that it is a strange land, different from yours.

My journey in understanding what it really means to connect with someone began in the death throes of my marriage. My ex-husband and I reached a point where we could listen to each other and comprehend the other. We are good friends now. It has taken nearly eleven years, but he is quite often my go-to person for advice. He can still make me laugh more than most people.

Margaret Atwood’s poem Tricks with Mirrors is one of my all-time favourite poems. It is a perfect description of an unconscious relationship. We are all mirrors of each other. I project on to you my bad and good qualities. You reflect them back at me. I think it is only when you realise this that you can even begin to start to have a true connection. One without mirrors.

I have had some very strange connections in my life. Unfortunately, these usually play out in connections of the romantic variety. I once described my love life (post-divorce) as A Series of Unfortunate Events. I guess that this is true for most people. Because why we fall in love is the largest, most terrifying mirror for us. Maybe it is, as Atwood writes, not a mirror but a pool. That pool can be quite dark and spooky at times. There they be monsters. But we know that in that pool lies our best chance of joy. A connection which is honest and true, loving and kind is what we all seek, always, I think.

I spent a long time seeking this connection in all the wrong places with all the wrong people. I have met some crafty mirrors and, if I am honest, I have been an even craftier mirror myself.  I am now at a place where I am in awe of the bravery, honesty, resilience and tenacity that it takes to be in an intimate relationship and stay there. I don’t know how this will play out in my life and I’m okay with that. There is enough joy in life to sustain me. I no longer am lonely. Of course, there is absolutely, a want and need to be loved and love and I hope that I experience that one day. I am through with being just a mirror though or having someone be a mirror for me. I want to understand the lay of the land in which I am invited to explore. That would be a privilege and an honour and an adventure.

There is something very cool about liking your own company. I have started taking myself on adventures, in memory of my beloved father. He always used to buy us ice creams (behind my mother’s back) and recently, I have been having an ice cream in a cone for him and with him when I take myself off for an adventure. The thing is – I no longer feel alone. I think I have finally got something. As he lay dying, my father asked me what I believed in and I answered, “I don’t believe connections between people ever die”. This has proved true for me, in life and death. Once you truly understand another person’s reality, it expands your own. They become a part of you. They never die.


The Princess AND the Tower

My older sisters were instrumental in the killing of one of my imaginary friends. I had two imaginary friends when I was around three or four. Their names were Waldo and Scone. I have no idea where I got these names from (Scone may have come from my grandmother who baked scones). Scone had a motorbike and I can’t really remember much else about him. One day, my sisters were teasing me about Waldo and Scone. Teasing is something they were good at. I spent a lot of time crying as a result of their teasing (and so, they made up a song about how much I cried.) Anyway, I digress.

On the day that that they were teasing me about my imaginary friends – I walked out of the room, to return about a minute later to announce that Scone was dead. He had died on his motorbike in a nasty accident. My sisters thought this was hilarious.

Oh, how I adored those two sisters of mine. I couldn’t get enough of them and their abuse, even though they made me cry. To me they were all in the world that was super cool. And I longed to join them in their games which were very advanced and adult. I’m not going to detail every aspect of their terrorisation of me, but what I can say is that there were moments of respite when they were kind to me. I never knew when this was going to happen, but it was always awesome when they were. I was endlessly forgiving of them, copied them and wanted to be with them all the time. In fact, my nursery school report records that I was a bit of a loner and preferred spending time with my middle sister. To outsiders, they were fiercely protective of me, and still are. It was only they who could be mean to me. They can make me laugh like no one in the world. They can also make me furious. We still fight terribly. I still adore them.

What a strange and complicated relationship is sisterhood. My mother, who had two sisters of her own, always said that it was the most honest relationship you would ever have with someone. Her sisters slept at the hospital, when my father was sick, never leaving her side. They have cared for her when she was sick. I love watching them giggle together, like girls, when they are together.  

It was my middle sister that flew to India to join me when I was travelling alone after my divorce. We spent ten days laughing, swimming and talking. We drank Lassis and bought Punjabi dresses and took very funny selfies. One of the best memories I have is of her being driven up to our hotel in a white Ambassador when she arrived in India. I have a picture of her smiling, in that car, at that moment, in my apartment.

My oldest niece discovered the movie Frozen when she was very young. It is still one of her favourite movies. Frozen tells the story of Anna and Elsa who are sisters. Elsa is cursed at a young age and is told that only true love will break the curse. Elsa shuts herself off in an ice tower of her own making. It is Anna that saves her. It is True Sister Love that saves her.

I grew up believing in handsome princes rescuing princesses in towers, from witches and all bad things. I believed, as many small girls did and do, that true love would save me. And then I built a tower of my own and was stuck there for a good long while. My tower was high, terrifying and very lonely. It was my sisters who risked our relationship to rescue me. They fought bravely for me. They held me, talked to me, shouted at me and loved me. Throughout my whole life, there they have been. Persecuting me, guiding me (whether I wanted guidance or not) and supporting me.

Isn’t that the truth about all love anyway? You take the good with the bad. Scone may be gone, but I have my sisters and their steadfast, imperfect love. And I am grateful.


How’s your LOVE life?

My father’s first cousin was an eccentric redhead who lived in Bathurst, a small town in the Eastern Cape. The Pig and Whistle was his local pub and, I fear, he spent rather a lot of time there. My earliest memories of him were of him shouting at all of us “How’s your love life?” This was a difficult question because our love lives were complicated, even then. It is slightly weird to remember that, even at our young ages, romantic love featured as an issue in our lives.

Firstly, my older sister had boyfriends. A lot of boyfriends. I think we made her life miserable by our intense fascination with these boys. I know I did. Once, a boy called our house to speak to her and I shouted, “Its either John or Paul or Mark”. We teased her mercilessly – sang songs about love to her and made up poems. Her love life was endlessly interesting to us.

My earliest memory of my interest in boys was at nursery school- a bunch of girls and I charging after a small boy so that we could kiss him. When we had finally caught him, we pinned him to the ground and took turns to kiss him. I still remember his traumatised face. There was another boy, also at nursery school, who I quite fancied. Our mothers had arranged a play date for us and I was to go to home with them in their car. But I chickened out. I caught a lift home with our normal lift scheme and was lambasted by my mother for being rude when I got home.

I never quite got the hang of romantic love. When I was about eleven, I received a Valentine’s Day card from someone in my class. The card depicted dew on a leaf, artistically drawn. I finally tracked down who the boy was. His initials were D.E.W. Instead of appreciating the astounding creativity and plain sweetness of the gesture and, heady with new feelings of sexual power, I am ashamed to say that I was very mean to him. I’m sure that he ended up wishing that he had never sent me the card in the first place.

My father had a standard question for us whenever we came back from a date. It was, “Does he make you laugh?” I think that was because my mother and he laughed so much together. They found each other very funny. They had jokes that only they understood. I remember my mother telling my father about her day and him, listening quietly, and laughing.

Another Country, a movie starring Rupert Everett, Colin Firth and a very young Cary Elwes was a movie that played on MNet in the 1980s. It is based on the student life, at Eton, of Guy Burgess, a British spy.  I saw it in my early teens – my middle sister and I recorded it- and we watched it over and over again – primarily to admire the Eton boys.

And, when I was fourteen, at our holiday house near the sea, I met a beautiful boy who looked like one of them. He was seventeen, a friend of my older cousin. I remember calling a school friend at home and saying, “I’ve met a guy who looks like someone from Another Country.” In the December holidays, when I was seventeen, I decided to pursue him, which proved to be more difficult than I had thought it would be. I spread the word that I liked him and spent an enormous amount of time getting ready each night to go out to the local disco at the hotel where I would see him. But he remained frustratingly elusive. He was an angry young man, fascinatingly cynical, with a great sense of humour. We kissed on New Year’s Eve that year. He was at university in Cape Town and I was in Johannesburg and so we wrote letters to each other throughout the years that we were apart. Remember writing and receiving letters? My middle sister vetted every single letter that I ever sent him ruthlessly censoring the romantic drivel that I wrote. And he and I spent time together every December.

That was joy. That was love. He made me laugh a lot- we laughed a lot together. We were best friends.

I was to marry that beautiful boy and lose him.