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Walls and Mirrors, Fall 1982

By Deborah Paredez

The wall dematerializes as a form and allows the name to become the object…
         – Maya Lin, designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial

The English translation of my surname is walls
misspelled, the original s turned to its mirrored
twin, the z the beginning of the sound for sleep.

I'm nearly twelve and the mirror is a disaster I
learn to turn away from, the girl looking back
always looking to extract her pound of flesh.

I had a simple impulse to cut into the earth,
Maya Lin is writing as the mirrored wall
of names she's made is arranged and laid

against the riven hillside. I never looked
at the memorial as a wall
, she writes, but
as an edge to the earth, an opened side

For a wall to become a mirror it must not
absorb or scatter too much light; for a girl
to become the protagonist she must sleep

with the guy or until he kisses her awake.
Sometimes we know she's the fairest one
of all because of the mirror on the wall.

Sometimes she must scale the city's walls
to bury the guy. Antigone cuts into the earth
to give him his proper memorial. She ends

up the heroine and buried alive, an in-be-
tween thing
, like someone who's eleven or
nearly twelve. When I look at the number

11 I see two walls, my name and its mirrored
twin. Sometimes 11 resembles the mirrored
L's at the end of wall or the beginning of llanto,

the Spanish word for weeping. Sometimes 11
looks like a pair of railway sleepers arranged
and laid along a track that's always leading me

back to my war-worn father. Sometimes the guy
comes back from battle and has seizures
in his sleep and the girl must shake him awake.

Sometimes the wall and the name are one
and the same. Sometimes the wall is where
we end up to begin letting go our llanto.




Listen as Deborah Paredez reads, "Walls and Mirrors, Fall 1982." 

Added: Monday, February 4, 2019  /  Used with permission. Deborah Paredez’s poem was awarded Third Place in the 2019 Sonia Sanchez-Langston Hughes Poetry Contest, sponsored by Split This Rock. Franny Choi lent her generous acumen as judge for the contest.
Deborah Paredez
Photo by Sammy Tunis.

Deborah Paredez is a poet and performance scholar. She is the author of the critical study, Selenidad: Selena, Latinos, and the Performance of Memory (Duke, 2009) and of the poetry volumes, This Side of Skin (Wings Press, 2002), and Year of the Dog (BOA Editions, 2020). Her poetry and essays have appeared in The New York Times, Los Angeles Review of Books, Boston Review, Poetry, Poet Lore, and elsewhere. She is currently at work on a book about the impact of divas on her own life and on American culture more broadly. She lives in New York City where she teaches creative writing and ethnic studies at Columbia University and serves as Co-Founder and Co-Director of CantoMundo, a national organization for Latinx poets.

Other poems by this author