The title of the poem refers to a root plant or potato /mbambaira that has been uprooted from the soil where it was getting food but is now feeling lonely. The tuber is a symbol of a comrade who has been removed from his natural environment like a tuber that has been uprooted.
The first stanza says the persona used to despise or look down upon his homestead with mud and grass thatched huts and toad stools. To him the huts were ugly and they marred or spoiled or soiled his pride/ego/vanity.He felt ashamed to be part and parcel of the ugly looking huts. He craved or intensely liked homes of brick and zinc. In a way he despised his roots or background or poor upbringing. However, stanza 3 tells us that he longs to go back to his roots because now he is sheltered by bullets, bush and harsh weather conditions. There is a nostalgic tone because he is now suffering like an uprooted tuber due to the dangers he is facing everyday. He longs to go back to the ugly huts. In the last stanza stanza, the persona is in the bush fighting but longs or wishes to go back to his roots but fears that he might find his home or the huts reduced to dust and cinders. Cinders refer to fragments of planks or lava from volcanic eruptions. He fears this possibility because of the destructive war.
The poem makes use of symbolism to strengthen the nostalgic tone and the suffering the persona is experiencing in the bush fighting in the liberation struggle.
Analysis of the poem, “The mirror Stares Back”
The title of the poem says’ the mirror Stares Back’ meaning that if you look into the mirror or looking glass, you see your true self looking at you. You see your true reflection in the mirror.
The persona asks a fellow comrade Takafirenyika (we died for the country)if he remembers a certain day at Chimoio refugee camp or training camp when they met female comrades or combatants with a mirror piece and begged them for a chance to look at their faces. Takafirenyika is a symbolic name, given to the comrade as a sign that he was ready to die for the country. It is a name that shows commitment to the war of liberation. In the same stanza, the name Chimoio is historical allusion. Reference to Chimoio brings back sad memories of the massacres of innocent civilians by the Rhodesian regime at the peak of the liberation struggle. It brings a very sad tone.
The persona says in stanza 2 that Takafirenyika was horrified by the image of himself he saw in the mirror. He was horrified because he saw a changed face, one that had deteriorated because of the harsh and tough conditions of bush life. The comrade saw his hair shaven by lice, skin strung taut around the skull and eyes retreating to the back of the head. The vivid description of the deteriorating comrade shows the suffering of the comrade due to hunger and starvation. His head is hairless because of lice indicating they rarely bathed. They lived in filthy conditions that allowed lice to breed in their hair. The skin was now taut indicating malnutrition. They no longer looked healthy and attractive because of hunger and starvation. The head is referred to as a skull meaning the comrade had severely deteriorated health wise. His eyes had retreated to the back of his head meaning they were sunken eyes. The vivid description in stanza 3 clearly shows the very tough conditions that the comrades experienced in Mozambique. Stanza 4 tells the lips of comrade Takafirenyika were cracked again due to malnutrition. The persona reminded comrade Takafirenyika he was the comrade that will be instead of what Takafirenyika thought. He saw that he had deteriorated. It was a moment of funny, a comic relief, at a time when survival was tough during the liberation struggle. A comic relief is a moment of happiness or funny in a serious performance. It shows that most of the time life in the bush was very difficult for the comrades. The poem mainly shows suffering of the comrades during the war. The suffering was caused by hunger and starvation and it led to the deterioration of the comrades’ bodies. The tone of the poem is very sad because of the pitiful appearance of the comrades and the realization that they experienced horrible living conditions in the bush.