What Rough Beast | Poem for June 15, 2017

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: Euclidean Geometry

That the history of creation proceeds according to
stringent laws is a reality difficult to accept. No
doubt this explains widespread amnesia among
those resolute in trusting the merits of control
I cite “merit” which assumes a priori the factual
existence of control, when it is actually warped
illusion—therein lies (pun intended) the human
conundrum: we are insects within a universe whose
eye turns at random to our hairy tibia wriggling
for attention, only to react with indifference. After
all, our major powers bomb others then return
with aid. Or, we aid others before bombing them
We are not reliable.
Then we build museums
complete with note cards by each image of naked
girls running down stony paths, their wings burning
and mouths screaming loud enough to tear down
centuries. We read the nearby notes and feel
what are unwritten. We return our eyes to fire
in backgrounds, as if distance from our eyes
can cancel their existence. Our eyes return to
foregrounds and we cringe from smelling burning
flesh. How to return to the origin of our race
before we became impure from living? Or are
we fooling ourselves by believing, in the begin-
ning, we were charged with good behavior?
So that each fire that’s since flared can be
attributed to misbehavior—an approach that
offers the relief of explanation? Silly humans:
the more stringent a law, the more likely we
will break it. Universities rise from philosophers
explaining how laws are necessary, not for direct
-ion, but for fueling rebellion—a chorus arises
in song: “No good exists without evil.” We all
bore wings in the beginning, but we are human
not angels. See how I treat my halo—quite useful
as a belt, my waist the perfect preparation for
disrupting its perfect circle into an ellipsis as it
too melts from the fire. Thus do we create
Euclidean geometry, bowing to it for more than
2,000 years, but with its fate to be its contradictions


Eileen R. Tabios has released about 50 collections of poetry, fiction, essays, and experimental biographies from publishers in eight countries and cyberspace. Her most recent include The Opposite of Claustrophobia (Knives, Forks and Spoons Press, 2017) and Amnesia: Somebody’s Memoir (Black Radish Books, 2016). Forthcoming poetry collections include Mantattan: An Archaeology (Paloma Press, 2017). Inventor of the poetry form “hay(na)ku,” her poetry has been translated into eight languages. She also has edited, co-edited or conceptualized 12 anthologies of poetry, fiction and essays as well as served as editor or guest editor for various literary journals. More information is available at eileenrtabios.com.

SUBMIT to What Rough Beast via our SUBMITTABLE site.

If you want to support the mission and work of Indolent Books, consider making a tax-deductible contribution to Indolent Arts Foundation, a 501(c)(3) charity.

Join our mailing list to receive news, updates, and special offers from Indolent Books.