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?

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Eileen Tabios

THE AWAKENING

[1]
I forgot the mysterious C___ who slipped syphilis to Vincent Van Gogh—she was a refugee from something unknown thus only imaginable by us: a world of people with hacked-off hands, thus, no paintings to criticize or admire…. I forgot how to perceive the shift of stars without feeling them fade or fall…. I forgot how to feel the Milky Way expand simply because, upon my waist, you placed your palm…. I forgot Tiziano Vecelli’s kindness—refusing to discriminate between daughters, he gave the illegitimate Emilia the same dowry of 700 ducats bestowed upon the legitimate Lavinia…. I forgot when one of a love-making couple is blindfolded, one is a lover and the other a canvas, page, smoke …. I forgot the alley of your city where I stood as a statue frozen by unrequited longing…. I forgot Auguste Rodin drawing women while they took their “melancholy pleasure” in front of him…. I forgot Jackson Pollock teaching the harmony of feelings in riot…. I forgot Arthur Rimbaud who said the bears are dancing but what we had wanted to do was move the stars to pity…. I forgot Pierre-Auguste Renoir who loved the girls of Les Halles for letting their breasts sing soprano above their bodices…. I forgot Paul Cezanne painting furniture to escape naked women about whom, he felt, “One has to be on the defensive.”

[2]
I forgot the mysterious C___ who slipped syphilis to Vincent Van Gogh—she was a refugee from something unknown thus only imaginable by us: a world of people with hacked-off hands, thus, no paintings to criticize or admire…. I forgot how to feel the Milky Way expand simply because, upon my waist, you placed your palm…. I forgot the sense of “walking upon a cloud”—the “calm” that overcame William Carlos William upon hearing the minister bestow a benediction: “May the peace of God which passeth all understanding be and abide with you now and forever more. Amen”…. I forgot Auguste Rodin drawing women while they took their “melancholy pleasure” in front of him…. I forgot Jackson Pollock teaching the harmony of feelings in riot…. I forgot romancing the stars to deflect the mundane, even pre-torture rendition…. I forgot Pierre-Auguste Renoir who loved the girls of Les Halles for letting their breasts sing soprano above their bodices…. I forgot Degas’ great joy at glimpsing through an open doorway a beautiful an anguished woman at her bath…. I forgot Dr. Williams fell in love with a young negress lying stripped on a dissecting table.

[3]
I forgot Michelangelo on his back servicing a syphilitic Christian— for euphemism, cite him  instead painting the Sistine Chapel for Pope Julius II…. I forgot Leonardo Da Vinci dissecting criminals who died with hard-ons to demonstrate the penis is not inflated by the retention of wind…. I forgot Tiziano Vecelli’s kindness—refusing to discriminate between daughters, he gave the illegitimate Emilia the same dowry of 700 ducats bestowed upon the legitimate Lavinia…. I forgot Titian’s prowess: he painted nudes with their eyes open to stare back at you as your eyes memorized powdered their flesh…. I forgot the thief (in Li-Young Lee’s favorite haiku) who stopped in the dangerous night to sing to the beauty of the hovering moon…. I forgot romancing the stars to deflect the mundane, even pre-torture rendition…. I forgot Pierre-Auguste Renoir who loved the girls of Les Halles for letting their breasts sing  soprano above their bodices…. I forgot Paul Cezanne painting furniture to escape naked women about whom, he felt, “One has to be on the defensive”…. I forgot Degas’ great joy at glimpsing through an open doorway a beautiful an anguished woman at her bath.

[4]
I forgot Titian’s prowess: he painted nudes with their eyes open to stare back at you as your eyes memorized powdered their flesh…. I forgot the thief (in Li-Young Lee’s favorite haiku) who stopped in the dangerous night to sing to the beauty of the hovering moon…. I forgot Auguste Rodin drawing women while they took their “melancholy pleasure” in front of him…. I forgot mistaking reproductions for what they copy…. I forgot the anguish of knowledge…. I forgot Jackson Pollock teaching the harmony of feelings in riot…. I forgot Arthur Rimbaud who said the bears are dancing but what we had wanted to do was move the stars to pity…. I forgot Paul Cezanne painting furniture to escape naked women about whom, he felt, “One has to be on the defensive”…. I forgot Degas’ great joy at glimpsing through an open doorway a beautiful an anguished woman at her bath.

[5]
I forgot the mysterious C___ who slipped syphilis to Vincent Van Gogh—she was a refugee from something unknown thus only imaginable by us: a world of people with hacked-off hands, thus, no paintings to criticize or admire…. I forgot how to perceive the shift of stars without feeling them fade or fall…. I forgot Michelangelo on his back servicing a syphilitic Christian— for euphemism, cite him instead painting the Sistine Chapel for Pope Julius II…. I forgot how to feel the Milky Way expand simply because, upon my waist, you placed your palm…. I forgot scientists becoming radical to pursue the ecstasy of Truth…. I forgot Tiziano Vecelli’s kindness—refusing to discriminate between daughters, he gave the illegitimate Emilia the same dowry of 700 ducats bestowed upon the legitimate Lavinia…. I forgot when one of a love-making couple is blindfolded, one is a lover and the other a canvas, page, smoke …. I forgot how to perceive with tenderness…. I forgot the alley of your city where I stood as a statue frozen by unrequited longing…. I forgot Auguste Rodin drawing women while they took their “melancholy pleasure” in front of him.

[6]
I forgot Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni possessed incomparable draftsmanship except as regards breasts, though he was weaned by a daughter and wife of stone masons…. I forgot Michelangelo on his back servicing a syphilitic Christian— for euphemism, cite him instead painting the Sistine Chapel for Pope Julius II…. I forgot how to feel the Milky Way expand simply because, upon my waist, you placed your palm…. I forgot Leonardo Da Vinci dissecting criminals who died with hard-ons to demonstrate the penis is not inflated by the retention of wind…. I forgot Titian’s prowess: he painted nudes with their eyes open to stare back at you as your eyes memorized powdered their flesh…. I forgot how to perceive with tenderness…. I forgot the alley of your city where I stood as a statue frozen by unrequited longing…. I forgot the sense of “walking upon a cloud”—the “calm” that overcame William Carlos William upon hearing the minister bestow a benediction: “May the peace of God which passeth all understanding be and abide with you now and forever more. Amen”…. I forgot the anguish of knowledge…. I forgot Jackson Pollock teaching the harmony of feelings in riot…. I forgot Pierre-Auguste Renoir who loved the girls of Les Halles for letting their breasts sing soprano above their bodices.

[7]
I forgot how to perceive the shift of stars without feeling them fade or fall…. I forgot Michelangelo on his back servicing a syphilitic Christian— for euphemism, cite him instead painting the Sistine Chapel for Pope Julius II…. I forgot Leonardo Da Vinci dissecting criminals who died with hard-ons to demonstrate the penis is not inflated by the retention of wind…. I forgot scientists becoming radical to pursue the ecstasy of Truth…. I forgot when one of a love-making couple is blindfolded, one is a lover and the other a canvas, page, smoke …. I forgot the alley of your city where I stood as a statue frozen by unrequited longing…. I forgot the anguish of knowledge…. I forgot romancing the stars to deflect the mundane, even pre-torture rendition…. I forgot Pierre-Auguste Renoir who loved the girls of Les Halles for letting their breasts sing soprano above their bodices…. I forgot—as did everyone else in the universe—the name of Georges Seurat’s mistress: Madeleine Knobloch.

[8]
I forgot how to perceive the shift of stars without feeling them fade or fall…. I forgot Titian’s prowess: he painted nudes with their eyes open to stare back at you as your eyes memorized powdered their flesh…. I forgot when one of a love-making couple is blindfolded, one is a lover and the other a canvas, page, smoke…. I forgot how to perceive with tenderness…. I forgot the sense of “walking upon a cloud”—the “calm” that overcame William Carlos William upon hearing the minister bestow a benediction: “May the peace of God which passeth all understanding be and abide with you now and forever more. Amen”…. I forgot Auguste Rodin drawing women while they took their “melancholy pleasure” in front of him…. I forgot Arthur Rimbaud who said the bears are dancing but what we had wanted to do was move the stars to pity…. I forgot Pierre-Auguste Renoir who loved the girls of Les Halles for letting their breasts sing soprano above their bodices.

Eileen Tabios

HEART POETRY: A CRITIQUE

 

“you can’t leave the theater humming the critique”
—Charles Bernstein

It moves towards
but stutters
like love over a lifetime—

Observation and meditation
if conducted deeply
harvest pain—

Fake flowers
are often too bright
inappropriately so
for grief
(but how else to see
them so swiftly passed
as they blur the edges
of roads continuing on)—

A restless mind
expands vision
unafraid of mess—

Their words—texture—
are ravishing
and ravished

The poems are quiet
And disquiet—

To see the thing
as the thing itself—

An orphan’s rant
for attachment
speaks to desire
knowing not what it wants
except itself: desire—

Thus, do fragments
become logical—

Each page should
be a glass pane
etched with words
not paper, too soft
a field for you
r hand leaving my waist—

“Guantanamo” may pop
up in a poem
but “Guantanamo”
is not just a word—

Read to receive more
than one can return—

*****

: how does one gauge the process of a word’s dying?

: this witness so clearly loves his subject.  Witnessing love is usually lovely—

: how does one gauge the process of a word’s resurrection?

: due to poetic prowess she does justice to her subject—she knows when to get out of the way—

: the matter-of-factness in many poems cannot hide how they are protest poems—

: these poems draw you into a vivid world wrought from turmoil, from trauma
and hold you there with their honesty and empathy—

: unrelenting: the consistent difficulty and persistent lyricism combine for an impressive result for which the poet deserves no less than heaven—even if it must be non-paradise: “suffering would be / my salvation”—

: after repulsion I became respectful. It took courage to act in a way that would lead to apology. It took a controlled helplessness that served the poems well—

: contemplation, contemplation, contemplation.  With Guston. Through Guston. Beyond Guston.  It never rests inward—contemplation continues forward to what is outside of the poet—

: a book that’s more a snapshot, a still, rather than a movie. There’s no beginning-and-end. The first poem begins with the word “and”—

: the charm of these poems is that even when the poet presents a third-party pronoun, the receptive reader easily transforms it to an “I,” thus inhabiting the poem—

: written as if it’s an offhand aside, but delivers its message through volcanic impact—

: an encouragement to pay closer attention to what you’ve already experienced, what you thought you already knew. Poems setting you ablaze, making you look at the world with glowing alien eyes—

: a wonderful push-ing by the words as they gallop across the page—

: a home is also a gift.  The poet realizes you often receive gifts by first offering gifts—

: that the question arises is welcome for presenting a tiny rip in the book. The rip (reference: wabi sabi) makes the collection more endearing: the reader is not here just to listen to the poems but to engage with them, whether through
a joust
square dance
belly laugh
thoughtful pause
or shiver culminating in a deep wince—

 

: lucidity does not always translate
to freshness in language. But
for poets who’ve devoted attention to language

poems become more radiant—

: space is impossible to depict without non-space—

: requiring poetry to articulate what is invisible—

: as if these poems were written casually
to be minor poems …
but somehow failed to be minor—

: powerful poems because the poet looked unflinchingly at dark moments and came out of the experience considering herself “Blessed”—

: while many poets use fragments,
the poet’s location of unexpected worlds in such fragments
hearkens deep meditation
rather than a skimming of life’s vicissitudes—

: It’s very difficult to write long hay(na)ku sequences (i.e., more than one tercet) without giving too much weight to merely-connective words like “and”, “the” or “a”.  These pop up in the poet’s hay(na)ku but their stress seems equal to the other (usually more significant) words.  The result achieves what Jose Garcia Villa claims about effective poems:
Each word must be necessary—

: energetically inviting first lines.  Like page-turners. Once you’ve read the first line you’re immediately invested—yanked!–into the rest of the poem—

: her caesuras make me think she’d have been right at home in some 7th century Carolingian monastery—right there with the monks inventing
the period
the comma
spaces between words
and the paragraph return
as ways to insert pauses and end-stops to make text more readable, hence, more accessible—

: stellar line-breaks turn the read into a rhythm so deeply felt even bones rock and roll—

: with repetition, parentheticals and other devices, the poet writes
out an energy of unfolding attraction. But the unfolding stutters.
It moves towards, but stutters because falling
in love is not always a smooth, direct path—

: critique does not suffice to create poetry—

: what suffices for poetry? Anything—nothing—all—

: one’s ability to withstand pain in a matter where observation and meditation, if they are to be conducted deeply, are to self-inflict pain—

: love clarifies as much as it clouds vision—

: narrator observes self-as-other—

: I’ve seen many of these roadside tokens and it is true that the centers of these fake flower bouquets are usually “too bright”—
inappropriately so when the matter at hand is grief—

: poems that deliver revelations so keenly they become knives to the gut—

: I don’t begrudge this wasting of my time!
It’s just too pleasurable!

Like wasting time with the breeze
floating the hammock,
hands behind one’s head,
watching the world unfold …

and occasionally reaching for
a small notebook to jot down some thought
as if the thought will matter
beyond its moment of creation—

: nota bene how the poems are written from a structured starting point instead of an author’s conscious desire to say something specific—

: the poet has trained his eye. That’s all a great poet needs sometimes—not an interesting or unusual life, but the ability to see what’s not usual in everyday details—

: the hushed-ness that surfaces. All these words! And yet. Such quiet!

: how, per James Berger, “language in the proper solution, dissolves, or else reincorporates into unrecognizable, engulfing signals disguised as pieces of the world”—

: the trajectory between the two books: a restless
mind whose vision continues to expand
with all the messiness that such entails—

: that line “he found himself” only to continue in the next line’s first word, “adrift,” exemplifies meticulous craft—

: her use of double slashes, “/ /,” reminds me of cutting—specifically how troubled girls cut their flesh, paradoxically to feel

: the words—their textures—are ravishing
and ravished.
There’s a certain flickering light within the poems.
Not bright.  Flickering.
Fragile, but one senses one can count on it never dying to dark—

: there’s a balancing act. There’s balance—

: the poems are quiet.  And disquiet—

: if I don’t whiff a sense of the mysterious I’m not as moved.
A vase receives but doesn’t engage.
As a reader, I’d like to be more than another’s vessel—

: wonderful, judicious insertions of “you.” As the writing shifts across topics and dimensions, the reader becomes the writer!

: manic jumps between disconnected narrative references to alchemize an organic whole through the body of a poem—

: there’s still something to say and/or there’s still value in speaking—
despair is not synonymous with giving up—

: there’s much wit in these poems, but my favorite manifests love—

: Jazz scaffolds the movements across and between a multiplicity of references to manifest what he quoted from Homer: “We leave home to find ourselves”—

: poems contain the paradox of garnets—stones for, say, jewelry but ever evoking blood. Jewels that should be pretty but end up transcending décor—
: I initially thought to use such adjectives as “subversive” and “innovative” (along with more benign but nonetheless sincere terms like “interesting” and “witty”).  But I might simply call the poet’s point-of-view, thus the poems, to be
“open.”
Open-minded.
Open-hearted—

: poems by someone all too aware that no one but “you are the sentry at the watch” of your life. “Only you … know / [when] you have left your post”—

: to see the thing as the thing itself rather than the thing as others say such thing is. I suppose that can be a challenge in the art world—or any other world so invested in cultural capital (Hello, poetry world!)—

: Here, poetry is a metaphor for other forms—a mentor, a college education, religion and/or spirituality (not necessarily the same thing, of course)—that can serve as a saving grace in a life of deprivations while providing a model for transcending victimization—

: why a rant for attachment? Because there’s too much caring displayed amidst the play. These aren’t just text games—

: while the language is straight-forward, the poems avoid the pitfall of projects written for children and “young adults”: they do not patronize the targeted young audience, thus, also becoming poems not “too young” for adult readers—

: the total lack of moments that may offer relief, redemption or hope to its critical (pun intended) narrative arc. That’s also the collection’s strength: its uncompromisingness—the relentlessness of its gaze.

The eye might not like what it sees but it doesn’t flinch—

: such are the vagaries of memory. Gaps are inherent. Loss is inevitable. Fragments are logical—

: I haven’t seen you in years. Now, when I read your poems, I think of you as pure light. There is no skin between you and your poems. So though I haven’t seen your face, your body, in years, I saw you just seconds ago when I opened your book read from your poem: “At the end of my life I must stagger back to love“—

: apparently, it’s a chapbook released to coincide with a poetry reading, as prodded into life by its publisher. Well, I’m glad the publisher got the poet to “get his ass in gear”—

: one of my favorite poetry paradoxes: how reader-response can be most enjoyable when what’s read literally does not make sense

: it would be reductive
to say the poet keeps our attention through an unflagging energy and musicality—
it would be reductive
to posit this poem is based on “all music consist[ing] of mere sounds.”

There are too many well-wrought lines that make a reader return for more pondering,
say, “WHEN YOU’RE THE BEST monster”—

: these poems stick in memory. I relish their presence—

: the poems are gorgeous but like beauty behind glass:
“Don’t eavesdrop on the egg”
or
“Breasts that hatch / Like music”
Each page should be a glass pane etched with text. Paper seems too soft (a field) for these words—

: the poems result from a two-poet collaboration, but no individual author stands out
except for Author #3, that presence that is more than the sum of “1 + 1”—

: this transition phase between two worlds, two cultures, two languages through which a concept like “affection or / disease” makes sense though they are not literal opposites: “Let me land in the open air”—

: self-deprecation is popular for its effectiveness. It draws a reader in through empathy if not sympathy. It draws the reader in through shared amusement. It draws the reader in through an admiration of wit. It even allows one to get away with bombast. To wit, there’s a reason why many poets—and I implicate myself—lapse to self-deprecation.   But I hadn’t realized how much I’d gotten tired of it, until I read this taut, intelligent collection wherein I found the antidote. This poet has written justifiably confident poems—

: a criticism that doesn’t dampen appreciation—indeed, it heightens appreciation for offering additional information about process without making impossible a direct engagement with the result—

: poems like “food wine,” relying on its context versus its self—

: there’s a passion in this endeavor far transcending the placement of a poem in a journal in order to get credit and/or further a career. Here, I’m not intending to criticize careerism in the arts so much as acknowledging the many ways through which a poem or art can find a “home” without needing the nod of an establishment—

: “knowing-through-feeling” is the indigenized equivalent of (Western) phenomenology, according to Katrina de Guia and is critical for what Leny M. Strobel calls “re-indigenization.” Decolonization is relevant

for if one is to discover indigenous values, one           must heal from the effects of colonialism, the         force that supplanted indigeneity with         modernity—

: poets have performed their art devoid of clothes. But revealing details about finances and health is more exposure than unclothing flesh. Skin still covers. This poet shows that the definition of “disclosure” is not just to show one’s ass but to show it in all of its cellulite- or acne- as well as diseased-without-health-care-ridden glory. This poet has earned to right to proclaim: KISS MY ASS—

: ENDGAMES is the purr-fect title for this collection that delivers an ACE

of a serve to poetry’s attempts to write itself. I call the works (tennis-related) Aces since each delivers a sense of completely having said it all (whatever that it is). There’s no need for the reader to dither as to what the work signifies or where it’s going (much as one goes back and forth in tennis). Each work delivers its world complete, and one’s job as a reader/viewer is not to “complete” it with one’s subjective response (as isencouraged by some deliberately open-ended poem) but just

to witness it … and marvel—

: a radiance so matured even darkness becomes luminous—

: the poems as ghosts of what they may have hoped to become—

: definitional mysteries—

: the facts about which poems are made—“Guantanamo”
may pop up in one poem but “Guantanamo” is not just a word—

: she doesn’t look at the box
that features the image
she’s trying to recreate
from numerous puzzle pieces,

feeling she’ll be more transported
by the result if she doesn’t know
what awaited her piecing-together-fingers—

: enchanting—

: a poet who gives more than we ever could return—

*****CODA*****

It moves towards but stutters like love’s rarely smooth path—

Observation and meditation, if conducted deeply, are to self-inflict pain—

Fake flowers are often too bright, inappropriately so when the matter at hand is grief—

A restless mind whose vision expands, unafraid of mess—

Their words—texture—are ravishing and ravished

The poems are quiet. And disquiet—

To see the thing as the thing itself—

An orphan’s rant for attachment—

Fragments are logical—

Each page should be a glass pane etched with words. Paper seems too soft a field—

“Guantanamo” may pop up in a poem but “Guantanamo” is not just a word—

To receive more than one can return—

Eileen Tabios

MONICA LEWINSKY

obtained a psychology degree from Lewis & Clark College

received a master’s degree in psychology from the London School of Economics

wrote a master’s thesis entitled “In Search of the Impartial Juror: An Exploration of the third person effect and pretrial publicity”

designed a line of handbags bearing her name “The Real Monica”

is the daughter of German Jews who escaped Nazi Germany and emigrated to El Salvador and later the United States

worked as a correspondent for British Channel 5, reporting on U.S. culture and trends

hosted a reality television show

enjoys yoga, musical theater, flea markets, museums, facial and color hydrotherapy

was a spokesperson for Jenny Craig’s diet program

was sheepish when she forgot to pay her cable TV bill

often offers toothy grins

gets introduced by strangers to their dogs

apologizes

is friends with Alan Cummings

knits