Mise en Abyme

Nick Lantz


In the end, we are self-perceiving, self-inventing, locked-in mirages that are little miracles of self-reference.

-Douglas Hofstadter

In a diner in America, a child
colors in a placemat map of America,
all the jagged little states bursting
with color. She unwraps pats of butter, flattens
out the foil packages on which an Indian maiden
kneels, holding a box, on which an Indian maiden
kneels, holding a box, on which
you get the idea.

My friend the artist takes
a photo of herself in the mirror,
then has this photo tattooed
on her arm. Then she takes
another photo in the mirror,
showing off the tattoo
of her taking her photo
in the mirror.

And that box the Indian maiden
is holding is full of butter, which is full
of milk, which is full of grass,
which is full of sunlight,
which is full of subatomic quanta
that open like a set of matryoshka dolls,
each smaller than the last, forever.
Or the box is full of colonialism
pressed into golden bricks. Or the box
is empty. Or there is no box
because it is just a drawing
and not a box at all.

At night, my cat faces off
with her reflection in the patio door—
back arched, tongue on fire,
she raises her paw to strike it
but runs away when it raises a paw
to strike her back.

When all my hair had fallen out,
I stood naked in front of a mirror,
and the stranger on the other side
kept saying, "I'm you."
"I’m you," I repeated back
to him like a pet bird
imitating sounds
it can't understand:
tea kettle, game show
theme song, a doorbell
ringing as the postman delivers a box
that contains a series of smaller
boxes, inside which is a tiny voice
chanting I'm you, I'm you.

In the middle of an ocean, a continent.
Inside that continent, a great lake.
In the lake, an island.
On the island, a pond
and, jutting above
the surface of its water, a rock.
And on that rock, a drop of water,
and in that drop, microscopic flecks
of earth.

The photo of my friend
showing off the tattoo
of herself taking a photo of herself hangs
in an art gallery, life-sized. I take a photo
of my life-sized friend standing beside it,
and then we walk out onto the street,
which is busy with traffic,
and enter a taxi in which a tiny toy taxi
hangs from the rearview mirror,
and inside it—maybe—a little us,
riding through the endless night.