983: Things Haunt

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983: Things Haunt

Today’s episode is guest hosted by Shira Erlichman.


I’m Shira Erlichman and this is The Slowdown.

I can think of four difficult moments in my life where I met my gaze in a mirror and was––not perplexed––but utterly exposed.

In the first memory I am six, left momentarily home alone; my eyes in the hallway mirror reveal an animal terror. In the second memory I am eight, my parents fight beyond my closed bedroom door, which has a mirror slung over it and reflects my gaze with such rawness it shakes me. In the third, I am nineteen, traveling through Paris with my longtime girlfriend, when she reveals she’s cheated on me––the room tilts and I claw toward the tiny hostel bathroom where under red lights the mirror shows my eyes stripped of certainty––my world fragments, I can’t find Shira in there. Then there’s the summer I turn twenty-two and start losing my mind, along with twenty pounds. Deluded by insomnia and mania, I catch my gaze in a bus window’s reflection and it is not dancing with joy, as I suspected. It is gaunt and lonely, which shocks me––who is that girl?

There’s a reason we Jews cover mirrors during shiva, the formal bereavement period after the death of a loved one. For one, as a reminder to focus on our mourning, and not on appearances. The Kabbalists had more spooky reasons: through death, the departed enters a realm that leaves behind a hole, susceptible to evil spirits. Evil spirits of the real kind, and internal evils such as regret, guilt, anger.

To meet one’s eyes in the mirror while grieving is to meet parts of the self that are unbearable, raw, jagged, self-judging and perhaps even unforgiving. There’s no room for that, say the Jews, grief requires gentleness. As does reassembling the self in an unprecedented present.

In an interview, the poet Sharon Olds once said that a poem is like a “mirror of an irregular shape.” Today’s poem reckons with one’s own gaze, but also with the warped gaze of others. Her poem confronts their diminishment, misunderstanding, and brutality. She speaks with a voice both ordinary and oracle, demanding to be heard.

Things Haunt
by Joshua Jennifer Espinoza

California is a desert and I am a woman inside it.
The road ahead bends sideways and I lurch within myself.
I’m full of ugly feelings, awful thoughts, bad dreams
of doom, and so much love left unspoken.

Is mercury in retrograde? someone asks.
Someone answers, No, it’s something else
like that though. Something else like that.
That should be my name.

When you ask me am I really a woman, a human being,
a coherent identity, I’ll say No, I’m something else
like that though.

A true citizen of planet earth closes their eyes
and says what they are before the mirror.
A good person gives and asks for nothing in return.
I give and I ask for only one thing—

Hear me. Hear me. Hear me. Hear me. Hear me.
Hear me. Bear the weight of my voice and don’t forget—
things haunt. Things exist long after they are killed.

"Things Haunt" by Joshua Jennifer Espinoza. Used by permission of the poet.