Eileen 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: Threats by the Irrelevant

Of your round mirror which organizes everything
around the polestar of your eyes which are empty
the melted colors of intersectionality lose relevance
A boat capsizes and the cause is subsumed
into someone’s widowhood. No leak can exist, you
say, when the world is always leaking, thus
the emptiness of your eyes which, thus
cannot recognize the contempt in mine. My eyes
don’t organize. But accepting everything’s place
within the discernible horizon does not translate
to zero judgment. People—say, a family or an orphan
for context is inescapable—are falling to drown and
you are cowardly for the casualness of your
reply waving the truth: We are all drowning
To be human at this hour is not to be philosophical
To be human is to persevere through the lessons
of swimming, then leaping into deep cold water
for those drowning strangers, even one like
the persona, eyes afire, whose disorganized threats
remain landlocked by the organizing artifice of Poetry


Witnessed in the Convex Mirror: Hourglass

So the room contains this flow like an hourglass
each bit of sand gritty but together a smooth
-ly soothing waterfall, as if water can slow its
descent into a caress of a beloved’s cheek
when gravity is consistent in its demands
one fall as swiftly as a horrific mistake—that
gang member’s bullet penetrating flimsy
wallboard to become a third eye on a sleep
-ing baby. How swiftly the innocent bleed
painting a blue blanket red before the moon
tiptoes another inch away, a quickening only
a mother can slow down through a determined
-ly false memory as if, finally, she can cease
the bullet’s trajectory, then reverse it, until it
leaves the space held together by a baby’s
breathing—a baby that will grow to be a man
a kind man, who will grant her more smiling
babies, grandchildren, in this room that contains
a flow whose safety she can guarantee because
she can pick up an hourglass, upend it, and
reverse time before it runs out …


Witnessed in the Convex Mirror: A Unique Urgency

The shadow of the city injects its own
urgency. I was in New Orleans but
not really despite crawfish and beignets
I was considering exile because Cristina
Peri Rossi captured my attention by
writing about well-fed black dogs
never lacking for girls to fuck. I want
to say just “girls” as their youth—with
their implied virginities—might be more
powerful for the purpose of “creative
writing.” But the poem requires the truth:
women also were damaged by soldiers
before they were cast off to the military
dogs. Entonces: girls and women, it must
be stated, were raped in Montevideo. So
much more happened—e.g., Santiago
whose head flew across a country without
its body; no need to describe the soldier’s
blade cleansing itself of Santiago’s blood
by reaching for another neck. But the poet
can read write of shadows injecting a city
with its exiles’ uniquely-wrought urgency


Witnessed in the Convex Mirror: Filibuster

The balloon pops. Attention
yanks itself awake to a season
of televised men voting for, then
against, X, who coopted his spine
from echinoderms and crustaceans
Balloon popped. But such is life:
“attention turns dully away.” Fight
or Flight? Fat pigeons in the plaza
peck busily at crumbs, dirt soiling
their suits, the same worn to
camouflage useless Senators