I know I just posted another poem by Rhina P. Espaillat last Wednesday, but when I read this one, I couldn’t help but feature another one. You’re going to see immediately why I like it, I guarantee it. Rhina P. Espaillat was born in the Dominican Republic under the Trujillo regime. Her and her family moved to New York when she was a young woman and she began writing poetry, in Spanish and then in English. I love the way she treats bilingualism as the blessing it really is here. Absolutely beautiful.
Bilingual/Bilingüe by Rhina P. Espaillat
My father liked them separate, on there,
one here (allá y aquí), as if aware
that words might cut in two his daughter’s heart
(el corazón) and lock the alien part
to what he was – his memory, his name
(su nombre) – with a key he could not claim.
“English outside this door, Spanish inside,”
he said, “y basata.” But who can divide
the world, the word (mundo y palabra) from
any child? I knew how to be dumb
and stubborn (testaruda); late, in bed,
I hoarded secret syllables I read
until my tongue (mi lengua) learned to run
where his stumbled. And still the heart was one.
I like to think he knew that, even when,
proud (orgulloso) of his daughter’s pen,
he stood outside mis versos, half in fear
of words he loved but wanted not to hear.