Eileen R. Tabios

From The Ashbery Riff-Offs
—where each poem begins with 1 or 1-2 lines from “Self-Portrait in a Convex
Mirror” by John Ashbery

Witnessed in the Convex Mirror: The Optimist’s Ciphertext

The diagram still sketched on the wind
haunts, refuses evaporation so that
the world might be seen with more
clarity. Clarity, as lives of quiet
desperation imply, is untrustworthy: we
all know a hit-and-run driver who melted
into a suburb which has never shivered
from a siren. What we have is a friend-of
-a-friend professing a plan for a master
-piece “so eloquent the Vatican’s gnomes
will come knocking”—yet its rationale
relies on an acquaintance-of-an-acquaint
-ance dutifully memorizing Berlin “for
sympathizers” then Tahiti “for deliberate
dissonance” then Miami for “enforced
hermitry among those still faithful to high
heels.” All are required to open a steel vault
without releasing phosgene gas to reveal
the masterpiece that’s elevated all
encountered critics into collectors, so
seduced were they by the painting’s
denial of primary colors. I admit I can’t
fathom or perhaps picture, the charisma
of absent reds, yellows, and blues until
I realize they are the colors found
rippling across the flag of your birth
land that’s lapsed to a paltry figment
of imagination. How ironic, indeed, that
you dared to plan after embracing
orphanhood—an ambition that refuses
to be dispelled by wind, memory, or
scarlet lips fashioning a moue. You say
any diaspora teaches the futility of
skepticism. You emphasize, flags fall
down their steel poles everyday yet
they continue to lead spies into lost
evenings with shot glasses. I get it: to
second-guess the blueprints that
created this safe house is pointless—
it provides, for now, the only roof under
which we can safely open, heat, and eat
from cans of stewed beef well before
their expiration dates. Before continuing
to plot, we need fuel. Shall we dine?

Aileen Cassinetto 

Lily Briscoe Was Here

The Attic, 1990
So loveliness reigned
and stillness,
and in the attic,
clasped hands,
among the faded
and perishing
(window, chair, light)
Here they remain
clasping hands—
With “the lives that they lived”
The lives that stand still, here.

Bloomsbury, 1914
Blast and suffrage
and Marinetti!
See the landscape shift
its shape to show figures—
female and famously
foreshadowing an orange
armchair, ordinary and
unperturbed, inside an orange-
roofed barn. Yonder,
a swirl of silver and amber,
viridescent and vanishing
in a waterless tub.

Paris, 1919
In Montparnasse, on the left
bank of the Seine,
where the sun shone brightest,
I met Nina.
Watched her dance on tabletops.
I could see clearly,
her shape in cadmium yellow—
an honest color.
and my undoing.

Isle of Skye, 1920
The whole thing changed.
The lighthouse in eclipsed
light and the line
of the coast, dissolving
like salt
cellars on a lace tablecloth,
only the Jackmanii
remained, wedge-shaped—
purple and unresolved.
As for the kitchen table—
there it was, scoured and
upended in the fork
of a pear tree, its four legs
in the air, like a Chinese road
painting, liquescing into a blank
canvas, white and unwavering.

San Francisco, 1940
The bridges were built.
And to the City by the Bay, I came,
Chinese eyes set on
the Pacific and its World’s Fair.
Within a palace of concrete and steel,
I painted my panels next to Diego’s.
The Marriage of the Artistic Expression of the North and of the South on this Continent
he called it.
In other words, Pan American Unity,
rooted in the soil, moving forward,
Young Emmy Lou—whom I liked despite—
and her friends, Irene and Mona,
were a sight to see before 22 feet
of fresco—women can paint!
(Emmy’s grandmother would have
been proud, she who “fought
for due process when women
were committed to mental
institutions simply on the word
of their husbands.”)
As for me, I was sixty and free
to paint my world of form and color.
I was told I was out of fashion,
but what can I say—
those fauve mauves drive me wild.

New York City, 1960
great revelation
never came. But
a little
miracle: The Purple
was shown
on Tenth Street.
there, me
on a wall.

London, 2000
Dulwich Picture Gallery opened today the first major solo exhibition of work by Lily Briscoe…

“Then beneath the colour there was the shape. She could see it all so clearly, so commandingly, when she looked: it was when she took her brush in hand that the whole thing changed.”

Allen Jones

The modern bony fish

Because those who view the cosmos as basically nonexistent are sensitive to very small changes of temperature, except for traffic along the coast, most information—for example the elementary words or sounds of South African rivers—before being measured, must determine a mining method, produce a design plan accompanied by reproductive organs prepared by a species of the bony fish, and choose a monistic location.

The function must be determined

Therefore, the internal features of missiles and spacecraft—the beak, esophagus, first ganglion, and the great Iranian religious prophet and teacher, Zoroaster (whose amazing memory and powers of observation make him comparable to the modern day concrete gravity dam, though most information is a sequence of choices)—are designed to protect businesses against the possible dishonesty of semantics and symbolism in mystical experience.