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: Blurred Histories

Fur, pleated muslin, a coral ring run together
in a movement evoking the faux Queen
who stole her empire from the labor of others
over whom she possessed no moral dominion
For too many, their lives are a blur as they
can’t or won’t recognize themselves as mere
props in someone else’s telenovela. Beneath
the royal bed lies a carpet woven by boys
with unknown names. One or two survived
into adulthood—because they grew up to be
slaves, their lives remain unfathomed
which is how their guards preferred it. When
they enter into a poem written a century or
two after their return to dust, they will remain
perceived as a blur by the poet, no matter
how concerned the poet may be by inequities
and other forms of injustice. A swath of fur
a piece of pleated muslin and a ring with bent
metal and broken coral may lie immortalized
behind museum glass. But who their owner
abused will remain as blurry as the trajectory
of the whip cracking against their naked
backs. Even those who want truth’s clarity
are occasionally grateful for the blurred
vision’s inability to focus on a whip’s landing
on fragile flesh, then the reddening line
drawn quite clearly by the surfacing of blood

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