Sometimes the woman in the mirror is not you. That’s how this poem will end, I’m telling you right now. I don’t want you to worry, we all need to relax.
Let’s begin my story of how I find this to be true. I went to the gym like I always do, to use the treadmill. There was a class going on called Zumba. I’m not the type to go to exercise classes. I had just eaten, ok, I have to back us up a bit here, it was yesterday, my friend told me about this restaurant where the owners are so nice, and people need to go to encourage them to stay in business, and the wife works so hard making pies and making cakes too. So to the rescue, wouldn’t you? I called my good friend, when we go out we each order a different dessert and then order a third to split since we can’t decide on only two. That one. I said we have to help out here. She agreed.
And that is why, even though we were both supposed to be on a diet, I ate chicken adobo with rice, pizza with anchovies, and a berry pie with ice cream, and a Tuxedo cake, about six inches high. And there was some left over which I took home, and ate for lunch standing up at the sink, which seemed to be less momentous as an eating act than sitting at a table. I gobbled it.
And so that is why I went to the gym and found myself at a class called Zumba, although I should have known, I should have known better. You are already saying, what were you thinking, and worried about how this will end. Even though I told you not to worry. But now you can’t believe what I say. You are shaking your head. Who could be so—well, frankly, so recklessly ignorant? So I face this lady in tights with all these other ladies—I look around, I’m the only one who is plump, I realize they are a dance team, and they begin to hop up and down in crazy zigzags of the hips, so many angles going here and there. I am trying to make each and all of these motions, my arms thrust high, my knees are bending, my hips are swirling, my rear is extending, I am gyrating, I am hopping, I am spinning, I am twisting, I am leaping, I am hoofing it, I am stomping it, I am marching it, I am shaking it, I am working it out. The sweat is spouting from me. I am panting.
And then I see this woman in the mirror, she is wearing my clothes, what I wore to the gym, but she barely moves her legs. She is a stiff mannequin, some stately robotic queen, bending a bit at the waist and extending her arm graciously, in slow motion, to bid me be on my way. Meanwhile I of course am a whirlwind, you would say that if you saw me, a ballerina gone berserk on Latin music, I am cavorting like a harlequin, I am a windmill. That woman in the mirror is not me. And maybe this is who was with me on the treadmill. I was not holding on, so there was no way for the machine to monitor my heart rate. And yet the machine texts me saying, Do not hold on to handles, and then it tells me my heart rate, as if I am holding on, and I realize, someone is with me, someone is holding on. That is the woman in the mirror, perhaps, who wears my clothes, but she is not me, I am a member of the dance troupe, not the dignified calm lady who slowly turns, lifts an arm in some kind of farewell salute, and leaves. Don’t worry: I am not she. Sometimes the woman in the mirror is not you.
Dr. Mossberg, President Emerita Goddard College, Poet in Residence Pacific Grove (CA), humanities activist, dramaturg, playwright, actor, literary critic, and professor (California State University and University of Oregon), founded and hosts weekly Poetry Slow Down (podcast BarbaraMossberg.com) and lectures worldwide on poetry, including as Fulbrighter and former U.S. Scholar in Residence (USIA).