Mirror, Mirror

Ellen LaFleche

The nuns are not allowed to look at their own image

Sister Beatrice craves reflection.

Alone in her cell
she probes her face
with the slow, sculptural skill
of a woman born without vision.

Her fingers trace the bladed
cheekbones, the small brown moles
expressive as punctuation marks
at the end of her mouth.

One in the morning.
Beatrice sneaks into the convent
kitchen. There’s no chrome
toaster to tempt the sisters,
not a sliver of silvered glass.

No stainless soupspoons
with their inverted gazing bowls.

But there’s a ceiling fan.

Sister looks upward, as if seeking sweet
heaven. The metal blades,
slowly slicing air,
show shimmering flickers of Beatrice.

She sees her nose,
its humped topography, the sudden
twist just below the bridge.

The strands of hair pushing
out of her veil like the night-seeking
roots of a moon-flower plant.

Beatrice’s mouth is too lush
for a nun’s mouth,
but there it is, quick pink
kisses on the whirring fan blades.

Beatrice stares into faint
blue eyes, the pupils
widening like ecstatic cervixes.

So, this. This is what
Sister Veronica sees
when she looks at Beatrice.


“Mirror, Mirror” is a poem of vision. It asks us to imagine a life in which the self is seen only through others, in which the hunger for the self and the other is forbidden. By turns voluptuous and delicate, lush and ascetic, detailed and evocative, this is a startling portrait of a cloistered sister.
–Dorianne Laux, 2012 Ruth Stone Poetry Prize Judge

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