Poetry Issue 24


Eileen R. Tabios

“Sky Is Better Than Aspirin”

Child soldiers—At the slightest hint of light, he closed
like a purple mirabilis jalapa folding petals into a fist—
Rehabilitation defined as accompanying her smile that

slid mirrors away from her eyes of blue sapphires—
Her bedroom designed as an egg: silk walls of the same
pale lapis lazuli occasionally discerned staining Antarctic

ice—A mother whose absence is a singe—No loss of
translation when she uttered, “Sky is better than aspirin”—
Dream of a harpist in white taffeta, ignored in a hotel lobby

as she strummed and crooned atop chilly marble—Pushkin
grieved specifically because Beauty exists—An orphanage
faded into grey noise; with grace, the universe accepted

its role as soothing background—Instead of longing for me
you became confused with my absence—When you saw
a cloud, but felt a hammer—When you saw a mountain but

felt a stove fire—When you saw a tree but felt a rope—
When you saw a mule and felt the incredible sadness only
gods should feel because (1) they are omniscient, and (2)

they might be seduced into mercy—Even algebra can be—
come orphaned—When there are keys to everything except
“safe houses”—To remember Catullus for his scurrilous

invective: is that to remember or forget the man? In Burgundy
a gentle rain washed the slate path towards Anne Gros’ wine
-ry: she crafted the wine but deferred to her father—Must a

desecrated battleground be a condition precedent towards
creating art? Fire erupted like a poem—As he strode
down your garden path, mud fell from his boots—Under his

left eye lurked a scar people did not acknowledge but always
culled from memory—That painter who whispered, “When you
see the glass, you do not see its transparency”—Cool breezes

coiled milky skeins around pine trees: oh Baguio City before
every inch of your hills became slathered with shanties—
Delicately, the afternoon sliced his face with the edge of a half-

open curtain that revealed just enough of the sun’s passage
and distaste—Shall we excavate Anonymous whose bones
outlined a fetal position? I saw a city bleeding beyond windows

and felt Manila’s red sunset staining street children whose hopes
concerned absolutely no one—In 1995 a battle killed 300 women
and minors, causing military strategists to nod agreeably over

the wisdom of using the weak for the advancing front line—Red
suede gleamed beneath mud as dusk introduced the weight of
possibility—Quintilian considered Tibullus the best Roman poet,

an irrelevant declaration as both names are unknown except to
those whose noses never leave dusty books—How quickly love
calcifies into the heightened ridge of a frozen back—On all paths

branches wait without discrimination for someone’s misstep—
A neighbor stole my pet pig and ate the evidence. My pet pig was
pink-skinned and bedded down on my old sweaters. Keen intelligence

gleamed in its soft, brown eyes. Our garden contained too many
stones but we both loved it for being the site of our togetherness.
How my pet pig loved snuffling into each of my footsteps as if I knew

where I was going—Surely Vergile’s Aeneid is more than just
someone’s “negative compositional model”—I was happy in Alphabet
City, buildings crumbling around my unending correspondences with

the unknown—When I stepped on pine cones in Baguio City
(“the Switzerland of the Tropics”) I labored to prevent any slip in my
smile—Kids painted their noses yellow to mimic, they said, “kittens

with flue”—English, the universal language (for commerce), offers
only one word for “lotus”—Tomato soup simmered while I bemoaned
poor Quintus Ennius who founded a movement through which he

became replaced. I am the poet who refuses to explain references
now that Google has invaded the world—I was happy with your hand
on my waist as you sought the scent hollowing my throat—True love

is never chaste—Silk’s departing slide away from his skin was the only
consolation even as it created what would need to be consoled—
Is not satire the only literary genre the Romans considered their own?

Sensing a trip wire, leering as it hid in the shimmer of summer heat—
I was hijacked into Poetry but, from thereon, Poetry fed me: a radical
example of Stockholm Syndrome—To win at poker by betting the entire

pot and more, especially that not owned or known—I didnrqsuo;t imagine
the sharp edge slicing my flesh, the slide of a blood drop elongating
across a knuckle, the taste of my inner self as I suckled a wound, the

sense of invasion as a shard slipped from the external universe into
the pink fronds of my tongue … and the ensuing feeling of power as I
rejected swallowing its Trojan Horse—Mastering wine and its cousins

so I could address what I could not control—an experience become
fabric my memory crafted into a shimmering silver ballgown because I
accepted discipline—The empty page a second chance to stale breath—

How Poetry is unlike the poet:                             Poetry always knows

Originally appeared in Positive Magnets and used by permission of the author.