A Fauna of Mirrors


In ancient China some believed that
behind all mirrors other worlds existed
inhabited by strange fauna
each unique to its proper mirror
all unknown and strange to even
those men and women
who once knew the ways of
the Pig-footed bandicoots
the Honshū wolves
the Dusky Seaside sparrows
the Golden Toads, or
the rhinoceroses –
the Blacks of the West and Whites of the North.

Perhaps owing to industry
or perhaps a lack of imagination
the worlds behind the mirrors were shut
to us and our distrust of mirrors grew
as did the blinding glare
of their reflections.

In the many thousands of years
since the worlds were shut
we have forgotten to look
into these ancient mirrors –
those that shine in the end of an icicle
a quiet alpine lake
a polished hubcap or a cup of coffee
the eye of a black snake
or a desert mirage.

We turned our attention instead
to those mirrors that spoke to us
and believed we saw ourselves
in truth.

Yet beyond the quicksilvered surface
of all mirrors, infinite in number,
the Fauna lives in the myrtle forests
sips nectar from the yellow asphodel
and grazes in fields of cry pansy.

They hunted and slept
called and mated
were born and died
drank from coldwater brooks
burrowed, nested, and flapped
a million iridescent wings in the stirring breeze.

They waded in the sheeting water
of a tide receding across the sugar fine sands
alight with the fireball orange
of the evening sky.

Borges took inventory of this fantastic menagerie.
For all we know, may be among them now.

Only few mirrors are left
through which we may
one day glimpse the
swaying of root-spine palms
or reach the canopy of Rhea’s kapok tree
where the Lamed Wufniks
mourn their last sunrise as men.

And what of the cracked mirrors?
Somewhere on Earth, at midnight
a plastic hand mirror, perhaps
dropped in the morning rush
harbors the last of the illusive black Ping Feng –
a pig with a head and another
where a tail should be.

Behind the persisting oil slick
gelatinous, clinging to the marsh grass
the slithering Hua Fish resides
foretelling of drought
to nobody listening.

In a coal black puddle
at the bottom of a mineshaft
the shy Quilin – famed unicorn of China –
moves silently amidst the Wuda tree ferns
which once grew taller than an oak.

Quilin, protector of men
from the one-headed dog with two bodies
known as T’ao T’ieh the Ravenous,
longs to walk the overgrown roads
the buckling tarmacs
and falling bridges
of our ancient cities.

One who might dare to look
into the poisoned slurry of
the great California rivers
now dying slowly of thirst –
one who might push aside the floating leaves
to scoop away bad residues
may chance to glimpse the rare
rain bird – Shang Yang.


Yet the Fauna of Mirrors
being of animal mind
has no memory of this place
and does not remember well-traveled paths
between their worlds and ours.

It is said that the last time
anything bothered to come back
was to deliver us one of our own
– the Devourer of the Dead.

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