Poetry Wednesday – Rhina P. Espaillat (2)

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.


2 thoughts on “Poetry Wednesday – Rhina P. Espaillat (2)

  1. I like this poem but have a problem with how many people interpreted it. Granted I have grown up with only 1 language however my son is being raised with 2 (English and Spanish). I understand different cultures value different values, but is Espaillats fathers reason really about heritage? As a father it is hard for me to believe it is in fact about heritage. Seems to me blaming it on heritage is just an easy way to reason with a child. Now don’t take this the wrong way either since I can side with both Espaillat and her father. I want my son to have every door open for him in life and knowing a second language can help open several doors for him. However, as in the poem I would prefer only English be used in the house. Why? Not because of heritage but because I do not want to miss out on anything in his life. I do not want to fail as a parent in guiding him because he did something wrong and spoke about it in a tongue I could not understand therefore I could not guide him to the correct path to fix and learn from his mistakes. I do not want to miss out when he talks about his 1st time he kissed a girl and miss the talk about sex or the 1st time he had a cigarette and have that talk. There is so much a parent learns about their child not in direct conversations but in over hearing them speaking to friends and such.

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