Eileen R. Tabios

(a novella-in-prose poems)

Chapter 19

Someone thought: Good fortune becomes insufficient without a mate to acknowledge the fortune-bearer’s success. Success fails when its benefits remain limited to the achiever. The achievement becomes the fate of a Starfish Cactus—it produces the largest flowers among all cacti species with dramatic starfish-shaped blossoms in red, purple, green, or yellow. But after a few days, the charismatic blooms begin venting foul odors, evoking the difficulty in making good fortunes last. This unfolds even when the enactment of good fortune occurs with witnesses or other beneficiaries. Without acknowledgement by others, events evaporate into dreams. But dreams—don’t believe poets—can be false memories (and false predictions). What happens in a dream may not have occurred (or take place in all permutations of the future). How to respond? Bring back a beloved from cruel amnesia. Yes, always privilege the beloved despite the limits of love. Don’t believe blind poets: there are limits to love. But, always, opt for love. We were all born poets—it’s the living that can erase our poetry. Opt for good fortune. Be a poet: always opt for love.

Chapter 20

Someone thought: What if you perpetually face a barrier to your vision so that the best you can do is peer through interstices? Like language with its hidden etymologies—a favorite word, “rapture,” arrived from Latin in the company of another word sharing its roots, “rape.” Words can turn us into water. Against pain, you shirk being wide-eyed and peer through fingers splayed across your face like prison bars. Those vertical fragments might hide the worst of what is potentially visible, like someone’s startled eyes awaiting a fist, a bunny between headlights, the dove (or eagle) targeted by an arrow, the peony flattened on asphalt by an anonymous car, or your lover’s back receding towards a far-off horizon bloodied by a sun who’s given up on day. Perhaps sounds are uttered. Vibrations can flesh out the invisible to become visible. Perhaps odors surface. Smells can flesh out the invisible to become visible. Words have turned me into water. Perhaps philosophy tickles the brain. Ideas can flesh out the invisible to become visible. And, sometimes, to change the world—to disrupt fate—you need to be perpetually argumentative. But a scream, a smell, or a thought are not synonymous with what caused them, and motivations maximize or minimize the resonance of events. Words have turned me into water—don’t cry. There is logic to self-editing memory.

Chapter 21

Someone thought: Time is a movie, not a still photograph trapped within a frame. Thus, your hand caressed my cheek but when it left my flesh all of you disappeared, including your identity and the press of your thighs against mine. This memory was not of your hand coaxing a blush but of you constraining love’s intensity. Elsewhere, wildfires erupted from the lack of rain in Spain—this paraphrase surfaces with no melody on its way to a Hollywood ending. Pigs fed their identities to tourists in Extremadura and Castilla y Leon—fires can’t erase the imbalanced histories created when someone eats while another is eaten. Movies that end are waterless rivers—soon, only their untrodden paths remain. Untrodden paths are useless and beg for water to create new lives. When clouds give up on identity, raindrops begin their music of a caterwaul or a symphony or something in-between. As you listen, you realize why an ancient poet observed, “Rain never says the same name twice in all its chatter.” Movies are circles with no ending frames—start anywhere and you’ll reach beginnings and endings that begin again. Water is a silently noisy avant garde film.

Chapter 22

Someone thought: Wounds don’t stand still—time becomes defined as either fester or heal. To understand time is to realize justice can be capricious, the law even more so. Comprehend the leaf. Formed in community, it can be felled by a random breeze. But when it loses its grip and falls to the ground, it can be composted into fertilizer for its mother tree: death becomes the ticket for returning home. No need to castigate wind for carelessness. “It is what it is.” Which is not to say, become a passive vessel. Be the one to shape the vessel—give it a handle to improve accessibility, control the kiln’s heat to avoid melting its glaze, or for your aesthetic appreciation add specks of color to deepen the surface’s visual depth. Deepening vision is instructive for wisdom, including metaphors. Here, you finally meet the woman you loved in dreams spanning centuries. Here, she finally requits your gaze. Dismiss her prior blindness—humanity is formed by blindness as much as perception. Here, she finally dives into your gaze. Her black wool cloak is loosened from lace-shrouded shoulders and drops to the floor where your foot kicks it away. As lace willingly ruptures, the cloak slides towards the open window where a passing wind captures a corner and draws its darkness to itself. The wind carries the cloak away to the other side of a far-off rainbow. By the time the cloak drops by the hobgoblins counting the gold coins of the rainbow’s emptied pot, its blackness has been made useless through holes pecked by a multitude of birds. The opposite of darkness is laughter. The hobgoblins laugh at the destroyed cloak. All goblins first laugh whenever they meet something more grotesque than their own ravaged bodies. Against such laughter, what is a scar but something that is, at worst, tolerable and, at best, amusing? What are scars but the negation of wounds? What are scars but yet another doorway into a laughter whose span is so wide its edges have melted into the silver infinity of a philosopher-scientist’s block universe where the past, present and future exist simultaneously? Begin then with laughter’s condition precedent: smile.

Chapter 23

Someone thought: Whales sang as a black and brown tweed skirt slipped above the tops of sheer silk stockings. Or was the sound birdsong from Australia’s Superb Lyrebird? Or singing sand dunes—Nevada’s Sand Mountain gives a low C, Chile’s Mar de Dunas an F, and Morocco’s Ghord Lahar a G sharp? Or Marcella Dee singing and drumming Chick Corea’s “Spain”? Or kulintang notes slicing air as tamnag wood sticks beat on bronze gongs? Or So Hyang, “the best voice in early 21st century Asia,” covering the classic “Misty”? A long-lashed face lifted from peering at a leather- and silver-bound book. The book’s pages rippled from water’s history of spills, tears, blood, and rain. She raised a hand to push back zaffre tresses from her face and revealed eyes painted by the color of memory: cobalt, flecked with the copper color of regretful ancestors. Regret arose from cobalt’s history of mines populated by child labor and rotten wood infrastructures. For relief, she remembered, thus reminded him, Any sound is like water: immersive. Thus, he knew to begin with music whenever he wished to make love to his eternal wife. In a popular TED Talk, erotica expert Gina Gutierrez noted that different sonic experiences broadens sexual repertoire. Let the skirt rise further. An aria awaited, and he knew the note was just a beginning. Once, he’d learned to court flesh in the form of the cabaletta. In this Italian opera favored in the 19th century, a songlike cantabile section is followed by a more animated section, the cabaletta proper, repeated in whole or in part. Such arias are preceded by a sung recitation. Italians call the whole sequence a scena—an unfolding he metaphorically crafted as lyrical foreplay before more animated touches repeated as intimacy arose. The press of hands and tongues intensified and ebbed with music until sound provided a cocoon for bodies to expose themselves completely, as if human history never contained cruelty or reasons for hiring spies whose eyes had transformed to steel. Experienced spies knew to treasure any alchemy that would revert metals in their bodies back to indigenous flesh—if they survived their careers, spies knew to cherish any alchemy that would return their humanity from an occupational disease of forged amnesia.

Chapter 24

Someone thought: For many things, there can be no preparation. Like catching your shirt on a door handle. First crush. The death of a parent. The fixed stare of a baby owl behind a stack of firewood. Rape. The first child. A fart. The first time in jail. A beloved’s dementia. Searching for a former lover and discovering an obituary. The first time your toddler drops an F-bomb. Waking up to your mortality. Winning a billion-dollar lottery. The marriage proposal in front of your parents’ tombstone. The purple flower suddenly springing from an artichoke. Burying your child. The very first time you hear, “I love you.” The very first time you say, “I love you.” When something improbably fated is realized.

Chapter 25

Someone thought: In the beginning there was a separation and that’s how the world began. The seed to all things cannot be denied—separations mark the significance of existence: the Big Bang spitting out our known universe into objects flying away from each other to become individual planets, moons, and meteors; Adam and Eve’s fall from Paradise; a birth that expels the infant from the mother; the disappearance of dinosaurs and the useless sixth toe from the human body; wars, diasporas, and the many variations of abuse fracturing families; Rapunzel separated from the world by a tower’s imprisonment, then separating from the tower by climbing down a rope braided from her cut hair; distilling hydrocarbons from crude oil to create fossil fuels, plastics, and polymers; the separation-as-much-as-love story Romeo and Juliet; Spanish colonizers uprooting Babaylans from their indigenous lands; divorce; poets deconstructing words from previously-accepted definitions; and the creation of orphans and spies, among numerous others. Thus, we look for love to heal, transcend, deny, or unite. But love is fragile as much as it is strong—this is how one begins a literature with no minor characters.


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