American Life in Poetry: Column 699


Carol V. Davis lives in California, and once was an artist-in-residence at the Homestead Monument in Nebraska, where I met her.The following poem, her fourth to be published in this column, is from her 2017 book from Truman State University Press, Because I Cannot Leave This Body.I'm a sucker for poems about customs.

Covering the Mirrors

After a funeral, they were covered with black cloth,
some draped with shawls like a scalloped valance.
Leftover sewing scraps, wool, linen, synthetic,
anything to shroud the odd-shaped mirrors,
though sometimes a corner was exposed like a woman
whose ankle peeks forbidden from under a long skirt.
A mourner must shun vanity during shiva, focusing inward
but as a child I wondered if this were to avoid ghosts,
for don't the dead take their time leaving?
I'm of a generation where grandparents disappeared,
great aunts with European accents,
rarely an explanation provided to us children.
My mother died too young.
With a baby in arms I couldn't bear to fling
that dark cloth over the glass.
After all she had come back from the dead so often,
even the doctors could not explain it.
Each time I looked in a mirror my mother gazed back.
I could never tell if she were trying to tell me something
or to take the baby with her.

We do not accept unsolicited submissions. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2017 by Carol V. Davis, "Covering the Mirrors," from Because I Cannot Leave This Body, (Truman State University Press, 2017). Poem reprinted by permission of Carol V. Davis and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2021 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.