In the wind, a door slams.
With the sound of a drunk
felled at the hips 
then sent body-long
through the percussion end
of an orchestra

the bedroom mirror
slides down the wall, tilts,
hits the dressing table
and smashes.

Some small and furious archangel 
has dumped out God’s cutlery drawer,
trashed creation’s back cupboards—

strewn across the carpet 
are cutlasses, scimitars, 
scissors, stalagmites,
crescent moons, dog claws,
cactus fibres, party glitter,
and silver threads fine as baby hair
that would lacerate the skin like wire.

Stand back! I gasp at my son
as his hands reach out 
to clasp each pretty, glistering trinket;
he flinches, freezes—

only then, like some half-starved guru,
the cat pads in

his purr a mantra 
Om Mani Padme Hum 
as he winds himself around our ankles

then walks straight over 
the glassy coals,
their fringe of reflecting fire

and the four-year-old,
an eager disciple,
lifts the mirror’s empty frame,
a picture of rapture, 
for now he can see 
‘through his own self’ 
straight to the heart

of the world.

Emma Neale is the author of four novels, all published by Random House, and three collections of poetry, the latest of which is Spark (Steele Roberts, 2008). Emma was the recipient of the Todd/Creative New Zealand New Writer’s Bursary in 2000, and in 2008 received the inaugural NZSA/Janet Frame Memorial Award for Literature. Last year she was also selecting editor for Swings and Roundabouts: Poems on Parenthood (Godwit-Random House, 2008). She works as senior editor for Longacre Press, and for the past three years has been course coordinator for the Creative Writing: Poetry paper at the University of Otago.

Neale comments: ‘ “Mirror” is based on a real incident, where I found myself trying to protect both our young son and our apparently oblivious cat from getting lacerated by shattered glass.

The phrase “Om Mani Padme Hum” might need explanation. Known as the most common mantra from Tibetan Buddhism, sometimes it’s loosely translated as “Hail to the jewel in the lotus flower”. More often, experts say it’s impossible to render it into a succinct English phrase. Chanting it is meant to loosen our preoccupation with the personal self, and focus the mind on Chenrezig, the Buddha of Compassion. In our house a banner with the mantra in Tibetan script hung next to the mirror, before the glass broke: an enjoyably paradoxical juxtaposition, I hope. Although readers don’t need to know that the banner was there in the physical roomscape where the poem is set, it might be interesting to know that both the action (looking through the empty wooden frame) and the line of dialogue are direct quotations from my son. At four years old he certainly didn’t know what the Tibetan script on the banner in our room meant; yet in the renovating, humbling, astonishing and even humorous way of small children, he seemed to have arrived at a kind of Buddhist teaching on his own. I suppose that linked to all this for me is the sense that larger matters underlie all sorts of apparently minor domestic incidents and interactions. One is the lesson that parenthood often demands that we forego self-interest, just as it continually teaches and requires the compassionate impulse.’

Poem source details >



Steele RobertsSpark
Random House
TFS Literary Agency