In a museum

After the “Honesty Mirror” made by Frances MacDonald in 1896

worn with looking
the mirror is
behind glass

reflections absent
frame without picture
except the light

enclosed by
pewter plants and
women’s hands

fleshless figures
hung with cloth
of metal

tooled faces
maker’s hands

stylized honesty
seeds beneath
pale silvered skin

sexless figures
hair becoming stems

to a seed pod
against the sun

tasteless, scentless
in beaten tin

the ageing, spotted glass
has a photograph’s
silvered grace

lean in and see
your father’s ghost
in a weathered window

Ellen McAteer

(from the Ekphrasis/Writing into Art project I was involved in this summer: more details, and poems by other poets, at:

I found the exercise interesting because at first what I was shown was what you see if you look this artwork up on the web – a photograph of a mirror! Hence, reflections absent. Artworks around mirrors and reflections, the absence/presence of the artist and the viewer/reader in the work, abound, like this one, “A Reflection of We” at Trongate 103, (Sophie-China Cabourn). Below that is a picture of the work I am writing about.

Tin, wood and glass 'Honesty Mirror', made by Frances Macdonald, Scottish, about 1896 </br> © CSG CIC


About Pedalling Poetry

Writer Ellen McAteer is founder of Tell It Slant poetry bookshop in Glasgow, General Manager at Poetry London magazine. She was a visiting lecturer at the Glasgow School of Art, and a mentee of the Clydebuilt Verse Apprenticeship Scheme, under Alexander Hutchison, and a singer with the band Stone Tape, as well as a solo singer who won a BBC Radio competition with her song Blue Valentine. She was Director of the Poetry Trust, which ran the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival, a director of the Scottish Writers’ Centre, a visiting lecturer at Oxford University's MSt in creative writing, and a member of the core group of performers at the Hammer and Tongue spoken word collective in Oxford. She is a qualified Librarian.
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