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 Impoverished Gaze

Once it seemed so perfect—gloss on the fine
freckled skin, lips moistened as though about to
part. Yet your hand, pushed far in front of you
serves as a shield before me whose sight clear
-ly was muddied by the gauze of wishful thinking
Now, your hand is as large as Parmigianino
painted it to be a source of protection. I back
off, refusing your judgment of me as the bearer
of backpack bombs—insinuating myself into
others’ lives as if I belonged in them, only to
blow them up with a phone text after I’ve left
behind the camouflaged explosives. I walk
away, knowing who I am. I see now how you
maintain your gloss, moisten your lips, for
dramas in which you star through false
self-deprecation. When you speak, you lapse
to baby whispers, as if your hand is not big
-knuckled with age spots you always forget
to mask with the same powder on your cheeks
The universe beyond the gilded frame of
your mirror is vast, multiple, ravishing
little will be revealed to your gaze low-lidded
with concavity, lacking the jazz, the sunlit cliff
dive, the epistemological danger—a delicious
danger, mind you—and the span of the convex

Witnessed in the Convex Mirror: History

Eyebeams, muslin, coral. It doesn’t matter
because these things are what they are today
and made larger than they are by the indolence
of our imagination. We imbue objects with worth
as determined by the artifice of scarcity—as if
eyebeams can supplant the results of scholarly
research, as if muslin can be separated from its
city of origin, as if coral can belong atop marble
pedestals in some corner of a skyscraper’s
mahogany-walled conference terroir. We break
proven ancestral wisdom by taking more from
the land than what we give back to it. Then we
scar the planet again with laboratory-made
pollutants impossible to compost. When we
pause to lift our protective visors from decimating
fish, plants and birds, we sip chilled chemicals
for water is no longer safe. Then we contextualize
abuse as some inevitable path of an abstraction
we label History to mask our brute exercise
of a power we shall never hold. Darling, even
you are indigenous. Darling, you shall pay

Witnessed in the Convex Mirror: “Lordy”

Finally reversed in the accumulating mirror
that jerk who killed an elephant, then posed
with the tail he cut off, speaks again. Jerk
proclaims his father will be vindicated by
the rising stock market. Lordy. Jerk never
learned the Dow also rose after the U.S. invaded
Grenada (1983), the U.S. invaded Panama (1989)
the first Gulf War (1991), the U.S. bombed Kosovo
(1999), the U.S. war on Afghanistan (2001), the
second Gulf War (2003), and the U.S. bombed
Libya (2011). Lordy, what a jerk, emulating the
father who paid for a year’s carousing at bars
before taking him into the family business as if
some competitor would want his empty hands—
would someone please put him out of the world‘s
misery escalated by his father cluelessly waging
war against the Constitution because his father
does not read. Lordy. All that mouthing off through
expensively perfect teeth: jerk better not plan on
running for public office just so he can keep those
Secret Service agents by his side when he plows
through crowded sidewalks as if he was Mayor
of all discerned through beady eyes. Lordy. Please
someone, take him to the zoo with empaths—
you know, that place where tigers lie down with
rabbits because they know common enemies
don’t need to be aliens from outer space. And
the bunnies, too, Lord, shall rise, fur bristling…

Witnessed in the Convex Mirror: Mundane Ass-ette

How it came to be this way. A ship
flying unknown colors has entered the harbor
There were pineapples on board. Pineapples
are never mundane. So you undid an extra
button—the space allows the mischievous
stamen of the anthurium andraeanum to
wave a wink at the beholder. Anthuriums—
also known as Flamingo-lilies and Tail Flowers
—are never mundane, unlike, for purpose
of the tattoo, red roses, red hearts, or the red
words proclaiming “Mama.” Thus, did such
a carefully-structured world collapse after
a winking cleavage revealed itself. Huge
consequences so often result from the tiniest
cracks—a bane of existence for gods are
as mischievous as they are cruel. Lawyers
for the spouse ensured you did not get
the primary residence with its limestone
turrets, the beach house on St. Barts, the
automobiles from Germany, and the condo
for skiing Portillo, Chile. I can only suppose
you did not know about the poison in
Anthuriums with their over-the-top waxy
blossoms in promiscuous colors. They contain
calcium oxalate crystals which can cause
severe mouth irritation and swelling if
ingested. But of course you ingested—
you lived as if you managed hedge funds
when you were but one of many assets
in somebody else’s diversified portfolio
through an LLC, a limited liability corporation

Witnessed in the Convex Mirror: Top Secret Clearance

Reflected face, in which we linger, receiving
dreams and inspirations on an unassigned
ambition. Those content to be foot soldiers
are best-qualified to become generals—
foot soldiers realize through prolonged
survival how to lead best at the helm. But
paper-pushers with limbs of lilies—whiteness
unmarked by grime or wrinkles from leaving
laptops—push their plastic through taxpayers’
ATMs, thus lopping off rungs from ladders
until they fall to where they, with chic hair
-cuts, sip milk heated by medium roasts
We can’t castigate the best minds of our
generation—their intelligence led them
beneath ground long ago. When caught
they plausibly can claim to be hunting
birds for a camp-fire roast. Red-rimmed
eyes can only reflect on how the cracks
on a mirror accurately reflect a nation’s
current state-of-play, reflecting, too, nostalgia
for those who served, mindful their only
reward would be secret ceremonies of
gold eagles pinned to their starched chests
then taken back by lily fingers for release
to descendants, were foot soldiers lucky
enough to make any during rare vacations

Witnessed in the Convex Mirror: The Grand Rider

“Riders of the motion that swings the face”—
a line from a John Ashbery poem comes
to mind as John Bloomberg-Rissman informs
“They cut a piece of the roof of my mouth
and used it to build up a gum.” Literally or
metaphorically, it’s painful when a face
collapses into itself. Certain cultures try
to cope by raising masks. But the eyes peer
through and the anguish reddening the orbs
is not the beauty of dawn or sunset, not
the growing blush at a compliment, not even
the hematite or ochre that puts the Grand
Canyon onto a billion I-phone shots. As with
many other occasions, a new perspective
would be good medicine. As the second
John secondarily informs, “Gum recession
is the origin of the phrase, Don’t look a gift
horse in the mouth
.” But he may be wrong,
it may not be gum recession, it may be
the growth or shape of the teeth. All we know
for sure is St. Jerome's “Noli equi dentes
inspicere donati”
. Nay, indeed. Neigh:
the entire British country fell in love with Red
Rum during the 1970s recession. The horse
had suffered from a debilitating and incurable
bone disease from birth—thus, he was bred
strictly to compete in meets just over a mile
long. In five years, he championed, taking
the Grand National title three times. A Grand
Rider cuts, builds, and feels gratitude for gifts

Eileen R. Tabios loves books and has released about 50 collections of poetry, fiction, essays, and experimental biographies from publishers in nine countries and cyberspace. Her most recent include THE OPPOSITE OF CLAUSTROPHOBIA (Knives, Forks and Spoons Press, 2017) and AMNESIA: SOMEBODY’S MEMOIR (Black Radish Books, 2016). Forthcoming poetry collections include MANHATTAN: An Archaeology (Fall 2017). Inventor of the poetry form “hay(na)ku,” she has been translated into eight languages. She also has edited, co-edited or conceptualized 12 anthologies of poetry, fiction and essays.

More information is available at http://eileenrtabios.com.
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