Reflections: An Interpretative Analysis "Silences: The Autobiography of Loss" by Eileen R Tabios
“I must weep alone.”
― Edgar Allan Poe
The ensuing personal reflections of a spurned poet and model silently bearing the recent loss of a wedded lover are disclosed in author and poet Eileen R. Tabios’ Silences: The Autobiography of Loss, a juxtapositional prose-poetic narrative that accompanies the reader through a woman’s symbolic thoughts, observations and projections in the aftermath of a terminated love affair. The plot unfolds with the dejected protagonist posing professional profiles of nudity to a sexually aroused artist, followed by personal thoughts and journal commentaries, a sequence of hexes cast upon her former companion, a 34-day comprehensive description of her refuse and a lone guided tour of a museum of art and facsimiles. Ultimately, having reacquired her self-prestige, she composes a seriality of sonnets, acknowledging her ascriptions, bringing the storyline to an encouraging and promising conclusion.
The model poses for the artist, the former preoccupied and oblivious to the latter’s obsession with sadistic and masochistic sexual fantasies, frenetically seeking domination over the subject (2. 1. 4-6 – 2. 9. 8). She initially appears to submit to seduction and sexual submission, inciting the artist (2. 11. 1 – 2. 13. 8), before capriciously resolving to conversation in its stead (2. 15. 1-8), Tabios employing poetic conceit, the woman, a pilfering “hurricane” (2. 19. 3), staunchly eluding the selfish man, the “rain” (2. 19. 1), “indifferent and unforgiving to / [all] it wets” (2. 19. 1-2). The artist is ultimately left bedazzled and excited by her metamorphosis from a hurricane to “wind” (2. 21. 1), as she / “return[s] behind-the-scenes to / nurse a cognac” (2. 21. 1-3).
The story continues with the thinker reflecting on love, her past and other personal annotations. She does not want to sentimentalize love as “lava,” “revealing the roots of trees,” similizing this to the heart being an [open] “song” (43). She wants to remain logical and practical, the heart being merely a muscle, “hold[ing] together the body” (43). The narrator is devastated, likening her devastation to the American jazz/fusion band “Hiroshima”, which the author attempts to ambiguously and cryptically relate to selfish and callous abandonment: “’Hiroshima’ seducing me through the stereo. Perfect for a summer day when butterflies are white, honeysuckle is perfume and a daughter nearby strung together daisy necklaces (under a lapis lazuli sky) because I would not have been infertile” (44). Errant thoughts of love, of rescue, abound. She recalls her first wedded, a descendant of a Russian peasant whose supposed misunderstanding of her native Tagalog had drawn a rather skin-piercing response. She is reminded of the daughter they had parented and the loving mother-to-daughter relationship they shared (44-47).
Thoughts continue, the speaker recollecting her favorite color, yellow, for its association with Nepal; dinner with her husband’s client, from whom she must evade sexual advances; domestic dialogues, such as the weather and an eating disorder; joy, and how it requires awareness and intelligence; and the sun, her personified best friend who is forever present. Her personal journal reveals animal-based foreign-crafted wear, bruises and torn clothing she sustained in an accident and a $15 imbursement she received for composing some poetry (48-56).
In the first of a series of malicious spells cast upon her betrayer, he is to “lose [him]self among the forest of / etched lines within [her] bleeding eyes” (4. 1. 1-2), metaphorically indicative of her wrath, and be “spit [ ] out as the Golden Boy of / Innocence” (4. 2. 3-4). Subsequent charms pledge an ironic change of sentiment, attachment now the affliction of the deserter: “A Golden Baby who shall write poems to my // Eyes” (4. 3. 7-8 – 4. 4. 1). “And as [his] hands / reach for [the forlorn’s] long-uncut hair, [he] shall try to / open [her] eyes by whispering what [he’s] / always truly wanted—from a woman” (4. 5. 10-13). An oath of love and a promise to mend her grief are apparent in spells four and five, “a certain sorrow [he is] / [to] heal” (4. 6. 7-8) and the returning lover to “keep [the woman’s] eyes focused on [his] until [she] / lose[s] the memory of other eyes that shuttered / themselves against the wine [she] wanted to pour” (4. 7. 1-3). The final succession of enchantments intends his all-encompassing physical magnetism toward her.
The poet composes “Samba Pa Ti (#3),” lyrically figurative of the price there is to pay for what we wish: “For me to open / the Iron Gate for you / I must lose wings—“(5. 4. 1-3). She vicariously informs her lost companion that she will not harbor enmity, expressing the situational dynamics parabolically through a story by novelist Josephine Hart:
are built for ordered deceit.”
“And you [Charles]?”
“On the surface
perhaps. But I don’t
“Elizabeth?” I ventured.
“Never mention Elizabeth when we are together […]….”
“You see, Ruth, we match
“Children alone in the dark who have never been happy or good.” (77)
The speaker analogizes her former lover and self to “Charles” and “Ruth,” two deceiving, plotting, desperate and unhappy individuals, and the former’s wife to “Elizabeth,” a hapless silent character in this scheme, oblivious to all that is taking place. Unlike Ruth, however, who appears to brazenly own up to her misdeeds, Charles makes a feeble and futile attempt to deny and vindicate himself of his wrongdoing (77).
The deserted woman continues to bemoan, perseverating over broken promises and hopes of reunion (78-81). She composes “Samba Pa Ti (#4),” like the previous lyric, illustrative of the negatives that often accompany the positives (82-83). “Bread,” a
two-part prose-poetic short, divulges her embitterment over her ex-lover’s reticence for affection, the dollar seemingly taking precedence (84-85), whereas “Samba Pa Ti (#5) indignantly expresses her resentment of having been physically exploited (86-87). Her wrath becomes more apparent in “Re: The Poetry World,” “Map” and “Maya,” three lyrics depicting resentment, internalization and projection. From “Re: The Poetry World”:
Rancor is a failure of the imagination.
You are confusing me with someone else: just
because I am a woman / Filipino / short / luddite
/ et al doesn’t mean I consider myself someone
in the margins. (6. 1. 1. – 6. 2. 1-4)
“Do you like me now? Now that I’m all soft and / fragile?” (“Map,” lines 49-50). “I am Maya—I will never stop looking for the / thieves who absconded with my pearly-toothed / smile” (lines 25-27).
Of particular fascination is the speaker’s 34-day comprehensive description of her waste debris, the subject suggesting that “refuse reflects truth,” that is, what we say and do are dichotomous (105). She is a serious writer, earnestly seeking literary representation, publication, distribution and review, as evidenced by reused backs of old manuscripts, cardboard book mailers, mailing labels, postal receipts, sheets of stamps, paper backing to sheets of labels, used masking tape and a host of other stationery appurtenances. She is devoted to her pets, providing them with treats, toys and fresh food, sharing her own meals and fastidiously securing them a healthy and hygienic domestic surrounding, evidenced by regularly discarded pet litter, groomed hairs and waste deposits. Chocolates, cookies and Greek desserts reveal a sweet tooth, dietetically and nutritionally compensated by salads, sugar substitutes and diet sodas, her allergenic sensitivity likely attributed to her dietary choices (106+).
The lone narrator escapes to an art exhibition, analyzing “visual poetry,” depicting, for one, Ruth Liberman’s “Why Certain Narratives Should Not Be Conclusive,” the diary of a German army officer, witness to death and devastation in the SS-occupied Jewish ghetto in Piotrkov, Poland, in 1943. “Petrikau 26.7.43 (1990-94)” illustrates the crimes, sentences and behaviors of 17th and 18th century English convicts prior to their executions. The viewer is particularly imbibed by the unvocalized thoughts and feelings of the imminent ill-fated inevitable, a related reaction to the apathetic and unconcerned Jewish Shoemaker’s response to the Christ’s plead for rest at his home while bearing the cross to his fate at Golgotha. Looming death is also alluded to as the somber spectator proffers commentary on the replicas of the 1945 U.S. atomic weapons of mass destruction. The spectator’s response to Paul Pfeiffer’s “The Singer Is Never Eliminated” indicates an evident sensitivity to the silences of the Filipino’s identity, culture, history and plight, while poet-painter Tom Fink’s “red,” “white,” “blue” and “yellow/gold” color patterns in his Hay(na)ku Painting Series is conciliatory, the yellow/gold symbolic of Philippine wisdom and enlightenment (363). Her responsive thoughts and projections as well as her choices of much of these works are suggestive of her overall feelings of despondency, despair and prostration, many of these pieces, for instance, drawing personal associations with love and loss, evidenced in several works of author Edgar Allan Poe (261+).
Having expressed her thoughts, feelings and projections, the writer composes a series of “Silent Sonnets” to conclude, poetic acknowledgements of her personal attributes in favor of the contemptuous venom expressed previously. She takes pride in her brilliance and wisdom in “Diamond” (9. 1. 1, 14) and “Sage” (9. 2. 1, 14), recognizes her kindness and sweetness in “Silky-Lashed” (9. 3. 1, 14) and “Lace” (9. 5. 1, 14) and amazes herself for being witty, sly and deceitful in “Mint” (9. 4. 1, 14), “Glove” (9. 7. 1, 14) and “Thorn” (9. 12. 1, 14) yet wry in “Spinach” (9. 9. 1, 14). Tabios deliberately censors the details of these convictions with a cacophony of gibberish letters and other typographical characters from the second through thirteenth lines. Ultimately, the lyricist regains her self-esteem, astonished for her delectability in “Midnight Snack” (9. 13. 1, 14) and omnipotence in “Cobalt”: “I amaze myself for being the sky” (9. 14. 1, 14).
From dejection to optimism, projected personal images of inadequacy, hopelessness and ire to expressions of poise and self-assurance, contemplatively, annotatively, lyrically and graphically disclosed, readers recent to love loss and abandonment will appreciate Eileen R. Tabios’ Silences: The Autobiography of Loss, a prosaic, lyrical and moving personal narrative of one woman’s plight to happiness and self-integrity in the aftermath of a shattered romantic involvement.
Copyright © Nicholas T. Spatafora, 2013