Mirror, Mirror

by Dore Kiesselbach

As it appears in AGNI 82, my poem “Real Estate,” written during my first year at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop (1988-89), is a vaguely Whitmanic lyric. In it, a somewhat portentous speaker promises openness and sharing to someone who’s about to cohabitate with him. It is like the blessing offered at the beginning of a journey, a kind of christening, if only of a bathtub boat. It seems imperfect to me. I tinkered with it on and off over the years, trying to make it wiser or more elaborate but what AGNI kindly published was the version I originally submitted to class, authentic enough somehow to resist all of my attempts to change it.

Its companion piece, “Rotation,” was finished for publication last year. I consider it a reasonably successful example of my recent work. It focuses on a terrible accident and a gruesome death in the context of two people in a relationship, two brothers. It contains no promises. No largesse is on show. It has been stripped down as if by the whirling propeller blade it describes.

Poetry is a member of the fictive arts but I do have a brother who taught me the basics of “Rotation”—the mesmerizing way in which the antecedents of a death came together. In all but the last and final drafts the dangerous brother, the preferer of perfect illusions, was the speaker.

I like to look at the two works together, twenty-five years and a completely changed attitude between them. “Real Estate” airily invites closeness; “Rotation” knows closeness as death. Each is a negative image of the other.

Oddly, these pieces are also negatives of the states of mind that produced them.

Despite its collegiality, the author of “Real Estate” was about to withdraw from everyday sharing/caring relationships. Less superficially sociable, the writer of “Rotation” is, he believes, more engaged with people and fun to be around; his relationship with his brother, in particular, has never been better.

I believe this second, hidden, inverse similarity implicates the idea of art as a kind of counterweight to existence/experience, at least as far as the artist is concerned. But what can that innate/unconscious balancing along a central life continuum mean to a reader?

Nothing, of course.

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snapshotDore Kiesselbach’s first collection, Salt Pier (Pittsburgh, 2012), won the Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize and contains work chosen for Britain’s Bridport Prize and the Poetry Society of America’s Robert H. Winner Memorial Award. His writing has appeared in AGNI, Field, Plume, Poetry, Stand (UK) and other magazines. He held an Artist Initiative grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board in 2015, when this post was initially drafted. A freelance editor/copywriter, and sometimes teacher, he lives in Minneapolis. Find out what he’s published in AGNI here.


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