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American Life in Poetry: ‘Covering the Mirrors’ by Carol V. Davis

By Ted Kooser U.S. poet laureate, 2004-06

Carol V. Davis lives in California, and once was an artist-in-residence at the Homestead Monument in Nebraska, where I met her. The following poem, her fourth to be published in this column, is from her 2017 book from Truman State University Press, “Because I Cannot Leave This Body.” I’m a sucker for poems about customs.

Covering the Mirrors

After a funeral, they were covered with black cloth,

some draped with shawls like a scalloped valance.

Leftover sewing scraps, wool, linen, synthetic,

anything to shroud the odd-shaped mirrors,

though sometimes a corner was exposed like a woman

whose ankle peeks forbidden from under a long skirt.

A mourner must shun vanity during shiva, focusing inward

but as a child I wondered if this were to avoid ghosts,

for don’t the dead take their time leaving?

I’m of a generation where grandparents disappeared,

great aunts with European accents,

rarely an explanation provided to us children.

My mother died too young.

With a baby in arms I couldn’t bear to fling

that dark cloth over the glass.

After all she had come back from the dead so often,

even the doctors could not explain it.

Each time I looked in a mirror my mother gazed back.

I could never tell if she were trying to tell me something

or to take the baby with her.

Poem copyright 2017 by Carol V. Davis, “Covering the Mirrors,” from “Because I Cannot Leave This Body,” (Truman State University Press, 2017). Poem reprinted by permission of the author and the publisher. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. We do not accept unsolicited submissions.