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Fall 1998, Volume 16.1



Roald Hoffmanphoto of Roald Hoffman.

Roald Hoffmann makes a living as a theoretical chemist at Cornell University. He also writes poetry and non-fiction. Forthcoming is his third poetry collection,
Memory Effects, to be published in late 1998, by Calhoun Press.



  1. Out of one, two, it
    really being a matter
    of the chemistry
    of thin silver films
    and the physics
    of angles of
    equalling angles
    of incidence; but maybe
    (who knows)
    there’s really
    three—the one
    back there
    beckoning, left
    and right exchanged; you
    seeming free, and,
    since it’s about surfaces,
    maybe the one
    caught right on the mirror,

  2. If I tell you that molecules are left
    or right-handed, that a carbon bound
    to four others can be crafted by your
    image forms, that we are built from
    just one hand, and that sinister, that
    we smell and taste and are numbed
    by one, and not its image, you’ll say,
    in your sweet way: what’s left or right
    got to do with it, do molecules
    hide turns, switch-hitters, the lovingly
    taught match of small arms and sleeves?
  3. There are people for dinner at home, but
    I’m tired, go to the bedroom for a rest.

    I sit down in front of the mirror, play
    with the ground glass stopper of a perfume

    bottle reach for a comb. The light flickers,
    the room seems darker. In the mirror I see

    the bed cover is not a dhurrie but frilly
    with lace. The paintings are in ornate

    frames, there are real candles in a crystal
    chandelier. I hear its glass drops jingle

    in the draft of a door opening, and I don’t
    want to see in the mirror who is coming in.
  4. I think this is what drove
    Bishop Berkeley to notions
    of the real; he, like me,
    in the bathroom, the only
    full length mirror there,
    asking, in a time-honored way:   
    Mirror, mirror on the wall,
    who is the fairest...and the
    mirror, privy to technologies
    of future, at home in fairy
    tales, flickers in a moment
    of steamy hesitation, floods
    with flesh tones, and there you
    stand, love, drying your back
    talking vigorously to yourself.
  5. I am one. I
    am two. Split.
    By the point
    that is you.
    By a stop. That
    in, one on. In
    you I am two.
    I am one. You.
  6. In a pair
    of mirrors joined
    at a right angle
    three likenesses
    of you
    stare. Two
    straight, face on;
    but they’re not you,
    as they are switched
    left to right.
    And in the corner
    where the mirrors abut
    stands a lone man
    who has it all
    as far as
    sides go, except
    for that unbecoming
    down the middle
    where he seems to be missing
    If you were to move,
    no matter how you move,
    the two seamless men
    respond, quicker
    than you can follow. But
    the image
    in the corner
    stays put
    like you.
  7. Essential amino acids, dextrously
    synthesized, are a mix of mirror
    image forms. The left nourishes,
    the right is excreted unmetabolized.
    How could one pry them apart?

    Imagine...a musty storeroom crammed
    full of mannequin parts, left and right
    arms in rigidified plastic disarray.
    And you, in the dark, have to sort
    them out. It’s a leftover Fellini set.

    No problem. You enter, feel your way

    to this scene of cool carnage, and
    like the President, you begin shaking
    hands. Maybe they’re a little dusty,
    and one surely felt warm. If the grip

    feels good, well, it’s off with them

    to one side; the others, found out
    in the dismal misfit of left on right,
    over there. It’s soon done, but why
    is there one more right hand than left?
  8. He seemed so gentle, knew everything.
    We thought you were lucky; I remember
    so clearly having coffee with the two
    of you on the veranda, your bandaged
    hand.  You said it had gotten caught
    In the garage door.  Now you tell me
    of scars that are worse, that make
    you feel like a moth with one wing
    torn off.  You tell of how his body
    froze away from your hug as he heard
    his friend coming.  And I was like
    his twin; none knew him as well as I.
  9. Tetrahedra, screws, bolts on car
    wheels always tightend the wrong

    way; in silver mirrors, in molecules
    growing on handed clay surfaces, or

    seeded, panspermia, into cauldron
    atmospheres, chains growing, left

    clasping left, sculpting double
    helices, to be nicked in mutations,

    building, building, to Alice's
    passage, in cyclones, and anti-,

    born from the nonconservation of parity,
    the four-pronged, chiral universe

    marches to an asymmetric tune: left,
    right, left, left…Remember, o

    explorers, to bring along a hand
    when you rocket to the far stars.

In Manchu dialects
the world for mirror is
"the place where the soul-shade is held".
Deep behind copper mirrors
the Mongol shaman sees the world,
fixes spirits,
the white horse
of his own, ecstatic, flight.


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