Poetry Issue 24


Eileen R. Tabios

from Big City Cante Intermedio

               “To the grace of the make-believe bed,” sayeth Ted Berrigan

               And to the grace of the make-believe city

To live in New York City is to travel
within New York City, local on one
block but then immigrant on the next:
such is the possibility instability
of a huge city
Each day always contained more
than one identity—
a shifting ground
that never disconcerted, even felt
familiar because, authentically, I
am an immigrant, or to use a word
I prefer for its lighter if not indubitably
joi de vivre
sensibility: diasporic

(Ignore the police: allow language its
capacity for remaining mere surface—
relish “di-asss-por-ik” slithering on tongue)


“Did I have a favorite costume?”—a quest
-ion like “Do I have a favorite poem?”
Old but honest answer: “The most recent …”

But here’s another camouflage identity
I present as example and not because
I privilege it over others—
to be a diasporic is to distrust
the nature of privileging

Once I was a slave to Sir Berenson
who, as Page 6 revealed, is the Big City’s
Biggest Dom … yes, more poems arose—


               Another cliché—

               How I came
               to consider anew

               the significance of a scarf

               as it tears
               as it ties
               as it muffles
               as it falls
               as it knots
               as it hides
               as it blinds

               as its colors fade despite the absence of light deep within a locked closet

A fragment from another poem:

               the door always opened
               to the scent of magnolias
               crushed to release perfume

Yes, you know me now as WARRIOR
but only in the tradition of humans
becoming saints specifically after
having sinned in most egregious
most abominable ways

for surely the saint first must be
expert at being human…

(hence, the ecstasy deep within the ascetic’s eyes)

which leaves us, as ever, with

               The Sphinx’s Unasked Riddle

               Which is more powerful:

               A moon so bright it erases night


               A sun so bright it darkens vision

O ecsta-see deep within ascetic eyes!

You ascetic ecstasy …