Eileen R. Tabios

               (—a study for The 1,146th Fairy Tale)

                Once upon a time, I stood in front of a grey building, my eyes and a finger reading a steel intercom plate in search of Apt. 13J. The metal wasn’t particularly clean, but it retained enough sheen so that I could discern my reflection.

                My finger paused when my eyes caught their mirrored image. I was not surprised by my searching gaze and its intensity. But I had not anticipated the anguish looking back at me.

                Years later, I would recognize the particular nature of its desperation: the plea of someone begging the entire universe, “Please. Don’t let me end on my death bed wondering, What if? Please.”

                I stared at my plea for a minute, or an hour, whatever. I stared at my hunger, and anguish looked back at me.


               ALL NIGHT

               the rain was soft

               But morning reveals
               the gravel washed out
               the camouflaging mist
               the empty flagpole

               Morning reveals mourning—
               the gentleness of cruelty


                Inside the building I had never visited before, in a neighborhood alien to me, a stranger waited.


                Once, the stranger and I saw each other in one of the city’s many museums. We looked at each other across the wide gallery, then returned our eyes to the paintings which had caught our attention. I noticed we shared a predilection for the same artist who painted abstract canvases in tones of gray, pale blues or off-whites but lined with cracks through which could be seen colors like scarlet fire, radioactive orange, Antarctic iceberg green, and ripe lemon yellow. It was as if the vivid colors were rioting to surface through the cooler palette that seemingly subdued them.

                “That’s how we’ll both end,” he predicted at our subsequent meeting, recalling the museum that had provided momentary sanctuary. “Solitary, ever looking at the world—including how others look at the world.”

                “You mean we’ll each end up alone, alone, alone?” I replied.

                “No need to be histrionic,” he chided. “The single word suffices.”

                “Alone,” I whispered but stubbornly repeated. I heard loneliness resonating, repeating itself, within my poor, fraught mind.


                Alone. I grew up hearing others remind: I was the only one to escape a genocide.

                How to define “stark”? This sentence:

                I was the only one to escape a genocide.


                Alone. But once upon a time I entered a neighborhood alien to me to stand in front of a building I had not visited before. Inside the building, in its Apartment 13J, a stranger waited.

                Once upon a time, I looked at a grey apartment building’s heavy steel door and my resolve did not flag. With flesh against steel, I pushed the door to open it.


                As soon as I discovered a dictator made me an orphan, I comprehended the limits of banality. I wanted more for myself than being relegated to a dictator’s aftermath. But the specificity of this desire revealed me to be no different from many others with less or more tortured pasts: there was nothing special about our desires to be special.


                I practice a poetics of lucidity. Everyone wants to be seen. Everyone deserves to be seen.


                I pushed. The door was heavy. But I was alone on this side of the heavy, steel door. I pushed harder. Then harder. Harder. I pushed that door open. Wide open …

Eileen R. Tabios loves books and has released over 40 collections of poetry, fiction, essays, and experimental (auto)biographies from publishers in eight countries and cyberspace. Recent books include AMNESIA: SOMEBODY’S MEMOIR (Black Radish Books, 2016) and THE OPPOSITE OF CLAUSTROPHOBIA (Knives, Forks and Spoons Press, 2017). Forthcoming is a trilingual English-Spanish-Romanian collection that will feature selections from her invented poetry form, “hay(na)ku.” More information is available at http://eileenrtabios.com
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