Poem 9 ± June 13, 2015

Eileen R. Tabios
My Neighbor
(1996, New York City)

In the narrow elevator we shared
his friend wore a baseball cap with oversized brim
and held a bouquet of orange-spotted lilies
as a shield between us.
I smiled at the waxy blooms, fragrant
and opulent amidst courtiers of gnarled tree limbs and grass
preening like tall models in velvet coats.

his friend couldn’t help himself—
like a cabdriver with his first ride
after hours of searching empty streets
he lifted his face to speak.
Tremulously, he offered over their perfume,
“They are lovely, aren’t they?”

I responded with a direct look into his eyes
where irises cracked to illuminate
the luster of emerald veins seeking their way to surface.
Then, not hiding the slide of my gaze
from one dime-shaped, pitted mark to another,
I replied, holding my breath
in prayer against saying the wrong thing,
“Yes … and rare. I’ve never seen such flowers like these.”

His grin pushed away the gloom
of a spent light bulb
hovering in the dimness we shared.
After the doors opened to his destination,
I enjoyed the slight swagger in his steps,
the loss of trepidation there.

I hoped
he would speak of me
to his friend, become a stranger to me
after neighborly greetings in elevator rides long ago.
I hoped he would speak
of the admirer nearby
who understood the importance of a gift
unforgettable because it can never be

Eileen_TabiosEileen R. Tabios has authored collections of poetry, essays, fiction and experimental (auto)biographies. She has also edited or conceptualized ten anthologies of poetry and fiction. Her 2015 books include the biography AGAINST MISANTHROPY: A Life in Poetry and two poetry collections, I FORGOT LIGHT BURNS and INVENT(ST)ORY: Selected List Poems and New. More information is available at eileenrtabios.com.

This poem originally appeared in Golden Apple Press and the chapbook After the Egyptians Determined The Shape of the World is a Circle (Pometaphysics Publishing, Maryland, 1996).