Mirror Image

By Jan Owen b. 1940 Jan Owen
‘Thirty years ago. And only yesterday,’
says Balázs, slapping at a fly.
We sit beside a bottle underneath his vines
and watch the football arc between his sons.
‘Check through the corner one,’ the sergeant says,
‘and make it short and sweet. Take a couple of men.’
(Seventeen-year-olds still nervous with a gun.)
It’s an office block like most
down the derelict street;
he keeps a good five metres ahead,
tries the rooms along each corridor
and beckons the two boys on.
They reach the third floor,
breathing easier now.
The Council Chamber’s here,
empty but for a tangle of chairs
at the northern window end
(unseemly three-day corpses,
wooden legs in the air);
dried into the floor – blood-stains;
and seeping through the shattered panes
the distant dialogue of cross-fire.
Directly opposite him – another door.
He notes the fact an instant before
it opens sharply and his counterpart –
the hated AVO uniform of green –
levels his gun and time is not.
They freeze. Somewhere beyond,
the seconds slide away;
between their eyes the slender lifeline holds
across the mirror of air.
Döntetlen barátom azt hiszem’:
Stalemate I think, my friend.
Each slightly lowers his gun
and slowly, eyes still locked, takes one step back.
The two doors close together, softly as hands on a prayer.
Senki sincs ott,’ each says to his men:
Nobody there.
‘In Hungary we used to say
Néha a második alkalom jön először
sometimes the second chance comes first.’
He’s silent, years away.
The day is insubstantial, seems to float
in the dry gum-scented heat.
Only the football’s thud,
steady as the beat of some huge heart,
holds us in time and space.
He rouses himself to swear:
Az anyád, off the kohlrabi, rossz gyerekek,’
then pours us another beer.
The head on each glass whispers small talk;
we blow the froth into the air.

Jan Owen, “Mirror Image” text from Poems 1980-2008, John Leonard Press, 2008; audio from Laughing in Greek, Audio CD, 2011: by permission of River Road Press and the poet. Copyright © 2008, 2011 by Jan Owen.

Source: Poems 1980-2008 (John Leonard Press, 2008)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Jan Owen b. 1940

POET’S REGION Australia and Pacific

Subjects Friends & Enemies, Social Commentaries, History & Politics, War & Conflict

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Jan  Owen


Born in Adelaide, Australia, Jan Owen studied arts at the University of Adelaide, where she earned her BA. She raised her children and worked as a librarian, tutoring in the Library Studies Department at the South Australian Institute of Technology, before turning to her own writing. Her poetry collections include Boy with Telescope (1986), winner of the Anne Elder Award and the Mary Gilmore Award; Fingerprints on Light (1990); . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poems by Jan Owen

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Friends & Enemies, Social Commentaries, History & Politics, War & Conflict

POET’S REGION Australia and Pacific

Poetic Terms Free Verse

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.