Two Poems by Eileen R. Tabios


Witnessed in the Convex Mirror: The Song of Space

We set out to accomplish and wanted so desperately
to see come into being our corralled chords
disciplined into the sublime—it is otherwise impossible
to heighten cathedrals into a space where supplicants
will feel their smallness, thus, comprehend they are not
gods. When I was young, I railed at this attempt by
architects (usually bearded men—no surprise!) who, it
seemed to me, conspired to lock humanity on the same
terrain populated by insects—bugs whose span of
the universe logically matches the tiny scale of their
bodies. Years passed and I woke up on a bench sleeping
amidst others who’d crawled in during the night seeking
solace from the freeze outside. I opened my eyes to
a rainbow settling itself upon my chest. I looked at this
odd light and whispered, “I’m no pot of gold, dear
Parmigianino.” Creaking, I sat up, looked around, then
stood to approach what called me: a massive marble
altar festooned with candles, lit and unlit, fat and
thin, and in varying stages of meltdown. I was, I admit
also attracted by a nearby cart of free coffee with
milk. Above me, the altar, and the make-shift break-
fast loomed a stained-glass window from where
sunrays had entered then descended as a rainbow
that woke me. I looked at the window where someone’s
son smiled with a love unfamiliar in the alleys familiar
to me. And in turning my gaze heavenward (as it were)
I felt again the largeness of the space created by a
cathedral that rose to meet its God. Thus, did I realize
the error of my youth: art—especially masterpieces—
elevate humanity. For no art was possible without
human ambition—that audacity and grace—that spares
us from the fate of our insect brothers and sisters. At
such a moment, there was nothing else to do but for me
to put down the Styrofoam cup, part my lips, raise chest
toward the hidden angels, and break into song. My chords
were disciplined. My chords were strong. I sang, and
my ambitious voice filled the massive cathedral space
into capacity. I came into being, capacious and singing

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: Tense Past Tense

The gray glaze of the past attacks all know-how:

He taught you how a “kiss” can be defined
so expansively its meaning can encompass a bite
so keen it split a lip’s membrane
to release blood whose taste you had never known
could be so exquisite
it shall become a memory that shall surface for years
without your bidding and whose presence
shall make itself known through your teeth baring themselves at air

You don’t write poems like he does
but you sing your dirges loudly because
his poems invited you to reconfigure
what your eyes fear but have no choice in seeing—
how an empty street becomes a long knife
a clown’s face becomes the threshold to a nightmare
a cluster of bees become soldiers battling the Nazis
your father’s senility becomes an open door for reconciliation
the fog spilling over a hill forms a day’s source of grace
the sky becomes an eggshell easily punctured by turkey vultures–
he gave you an unwrapped gift
you once thought you could never repay

Tanka #160
Gray glaze of the past—
How an empty street becomes
A knife, then threshold
To a nightmare of mad bees
Fog forms a day’s source of grace

From “Tankas Excavated from The Ashbery Riff-Offs”
—where all poems, source poem or tanka, begin with 1 or 1-2 lines from “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror” by John Ashbery

Cover image of Reykjavik Cathedral by Giuseppe Milo.

About the Author:

Eileen R. Tabios loves books and has released over 50 collections of poetry, fiction, essays, and experimental biographies from publishers in nine countries and cyberspace. Her 2018 poetry collections include HIRAETH: Tercets From the Last ArchipelagoMURDER DEATH RESURRECTION: A Poetry Generator; the bilingual edition (English/Spanish) of One, Two, Three: Selected Hay(na)ku Poems; and TANKA: Vol. 1. She is the inventor of the poetry form “hay(na)ku” whose 15-year anniversary in 2018 will be celebrated in the United States with exhibitions and readings at the San Francisco Public Library and Saint Helena Public Library. Translated into eight languages, she also has edited, co-edited or conceptualized 15 anthologies of poetry, fiction and essays as well as served as editor or guest editor for various literary journals. Her writing and editing works have received recognition through awards, grants and residencies. More information is available at