Sunday, March 16, 2014


Footnote Poems 
in I Take Thee, English, for My Beloved
(Marsh Hawk Press, New York, 2005) 

I Take Thee, English, for My Beloved includes a series of poems called "Footnote Poems."  They are so named because the poems are blank pages with small footnotes at the bottom of each page.  While the footnotes were written as brief prose poems, they are scaffolding for the reader to write something on the blank pages that presumably relate to the footnotes.  The published pages had to be blank in order to accommodate the varied texts that might emanate from the same footnote, as varied as its (potential) readers.

Here is one of the Footnote Poems series, with each published on the bottom edge of an otherwise blank page:

Footnotes to
“The Virgin’s Knot” by Holly Payne

He realized her sadness when the weaver formed holes shaped as falling tears.

He baited the soldier because her hair smelled like rain.

Revelation etched his eyes when he heard her sing mathematical formulas.

But can symmetry ever rely on memory?

The retired sheepdog’s lullabye: a virgin weaving a new row of knots.

(She feared the sight of the muezzin circling the minaret, an image she translated as dark shadows forming a noose around the “white tower” she once knew as a certain girl’s neck.

“Thirty thousand knots: oh!  She had fallen behind since the spring snow!”

She cannot remember a time when her fingers were free of wooden splinters.

He knew her body as a white finger holding back starlight.

Her eyes dampened the stones as she recalled her son’s first word: “No.”

The villagers recognized a new beginning when a sudden wind bent the trees backward.

As a student, she was flawless.

When she mentioned the possibility of forgetting “what it was like before pain,” the postman fingered his empty sack and understood a new pain from knowing the possible only as possibility.

In exchange for electricity, they accepted a colonizer’s alphabet.

To treat asthma, drink nothing but the liquid from a pigeon’s egg for 40 days.

A professional commits space to memory.

Ah! To understand hands like Fazil Husmu Daglarca!

In her eyes burn the fires of numerous tribes, as well as the redness derived from limbs dropped to the ground by steel.

Broken twigs breaking the donkey’s back—such are the temporary opiates of poverty.

She defined ambition as the helpless compulsion to write songs for women who will never wear headscarves.

The rug trade teaches that it takes much time to learn how to love fragments.

Authenticity always wanders.

The thin mattress smelled of lemon and wild rose.

The bride wore a red veil, which alerted him to the tears she painted with kohl against her inner thighs.

The anthropology student missed the lecture entitled “Be a ghost to the culture.”

He breathed in the air of a country where love for a woman as well as love for a man is love for Allah!


The late poet/writer Rochelle Ratner once used the Footnote Poems for a writers' workshop she led at a senior citizens' center in New York.  Sadly, I don't have copies of the resulting writings.  But I do have copies of the ten poems written by Aileen Ibardaloza in reaction to the above ten footnotes.  All of those poems are posted on my blog EILEEN VERBS BOOKS, but here's one example based on the footnote, "In exchange for electricity, they accepted a colonizer’s alphabet."

 The Book of Vows

Delicate and familiar is
the secret language

of hands. There is, for
instance, the piña, (un)spoken

by the weavers
of Aklan. Nu shu, 

by the wives of ancient
China. Chope, 

by the grandmothers
of Punjab. Nakis,

by the women of Anatolia.
Soft, wispy, red and endless,

is the sum of their symbols.
The quivered touch, stitch

by stitch, meant, simply,
this: I live, unimagined.

Eileen R. Tabios loves books, and has released over 20 print, four electronic and 1 CD poetry collections; an art essay collection; a “collected novels” book; a poetry essay/interview anthology; a short story collection; and an experimental aubotiography.  Her most recent book is 147 MILLION ORPHANS (MMXI-MML). Her next books will include SUN STIGMATA: Sculpture Poems (Marsh Hawk Press, New York, 2014) and POST ROMANCE, a collection of art-related essays. Her poems have been translated into eight languages as well as Paintings, Video, Drawings, Visual Poetry, Mixed Media Collages, Kali Martial Arts, Music, Modern Dance and Sculpture.  She’s also edited, co-edited and/or conceptualized ten anthologies of poetry, fiction and essays, the most recent of which is 2014's VERSES TYPHOON YOLANDA: A Storm of Filipino Poets (a fundraising anthology for the survivors of Typhoon Haiyan).  She blogs at EileenVerbsBooks.  Last but not least, as a youngster she was a volunteer worker at her elementary school's library.   


  1. Much like the idea of 'footnote' as scaffold. Gets the poet about as far out of the picture as one can get and still be doing poetry. What remains is pure langpo - the reader as re-writer.