Through the looking glass
Our dreams and mirrors meet in cousinhood.
Their language can't be quite the same as things
but each rejoices in some vividness,
the bright machinery of metaphor.
Since life can become as sad as All Get Out
some of us hoard dreams;
we love a looking-glass
which can be coaxed to flatter us to death,
just when changing in a trouser-shop.
Otherness takes all mickey out of the Real,
pretending to dismantle transience,
reassembling lots of splinters as pure form,
more delicious than hot buttered toast
or avocado. Thriving by similes
we look for likeness, parallels ... whatever.
The mirror reprimands me when I shave,
wrinkles and whiskers turning cousins, then.
So I turn back to rigorous aesthete,
reject the living world for, say, Vermeer;
yet when all the blinds have been pulled down
another me treks greenly through blue dreaming.
When I was a kid, I certainly knew
That a cassowary in Tinbuctoo
Was able to eat a missionary,
Cassock, bands and hymn-book, too.
Because it rhymed, it had to be true
But what on earth were those bands doing?
Nothing musical, I'll be bound,
And a cassock, what sort of jigger was that?
There's a famous library over there
All a-crumble, dry and falling into dust —
No, there are lots of facts, in fact,
Surviving the gloomy ills of history
On the site we now spell Timbuktu.
Famous for books in the olden days,
And culture continues to crumple there
Like everywhere else, but more.
The women? Beautiful and glorious,
Enamoured authorities gravely informed us,
Though the town has run short of salt
Every year or three.
So, there we have the golden city
With its miles of mellowed pise houses
Swayed under billowing fables, too.
What was it that I thought I knew?
Chris Wallace-Crabbe is an Australian poet and emeritus professor in the Australian Centre, University of Melbourne.