5 Poems by Rhina P. Espaillat
Here’s what you need to do, since time began:
find something—diamond-rare or carbon-cheap,
it’s all the same—and love it all you can.
It should be something close—a field, a man,
a line of verse, a mouth, a child asleep—
that feels like the world’s heart since time began.
Don’t measure much or lay things out or scan;
don’t save yourself for later, you won’t keep;
spend yourself now on loving all you can.
It’s going to hurt. That was the risk you ran
with your first breath; you knew the price was steep,
that loss is what there is, since time began
subtracting from your balance. That’s the plan,
too late to quibble now, you’re in too deep.
Just love what you still have, while you still can.
Don’t count on schemes, it’s far too short a span
from the first sowing till they come to reap.
One way alone to count, since time began:
love something, love it hard, now, while you can.
Published in Her Place in These Designs
“Look,” said my son, “think of it as a line
looped back and forth to bridge an open space
unbridgeable at last, but narrowed fine
and finer with each passing of the lace
almost to zero, which can never be.”
“Why not?” said I. “That would be certainty,
absence of error. It would be too much
to hope for.” “Then you orbit round your aim,
seeking, like Moses, what you’ll never touch;
or like a poet, hunting for the word
to reproduce a song he thinks he heard
and send it hunting in the hearer’s mind.”
“Right,” laughed my son, “we play the self-same game.
Sometimes I think the game is all we find,
whether we search for song, or sign, or zero.”
In the still house we talked into the night
before I left him, stalking, unafraid,
some stubborn truth flicking its dragon tails
across the page before him...my young hero
so thinly armored in the flesh I made,
my small moon gone so far and grown so bright
above my gaze, lighting his awesome skies
where I can wield no sort of telescope.
Pondering now what love could be, that fails,
as fail it must, to seize the flying prize
and yet endures, cradling the heart like hope,
I tell my son, “Think of it as a line
weaving between your orbiting and mine.”
Published in Lapsing to Grace
These feet I’m easing into soft, warm socks
know wilderness and work, war and the street.
Led by these feet, our sons learned rocks,
the pedigree of trees, and the high cost
of everything worth striving for. These feet
marched under banners meant to hold some line:
Hell No, We Won’t Go; Desegregate the Schools;
and No Contract, No Work.
these feet, with those of other green recruits
in Eisenhowers, had learned the winter weather
of the Ardennes, deep in that other war.
Medics would cut away the sodden leather
binding these feet blackening in their boots,
to save them from gangrene.
Many were lost,
but not these: these healed, survived the Rhine
Crossing, and came home to pace among
students learning to arm themselves—with tools.
These feet have walked a lifetime with the young.
When young themselves, these feet, like those of all
children at first, were cradled, safe and small—
see the framed photo—in his mother’s hands.
As now in mine, easing them into socks,
hoping to keep them steady when he stands.
As if ashamed, Time said, “I’ll tell you what:
I can’t give anything back, but how about
I teach you how to almost do without
the goods I’ve repossessed so far? How’s that?”
“Well, aren’t you all heart,” I said. “One hand
makes off with the silverware, and then
the other opens to lend me back again
one plastic teaspoon. I don’t understand.”
“I’m not such a bad sort,” Time said, “you’ll see;
but this last offer won’t be good forever.
There’s so much to reclaim: more bonds to sever,
lights to put out, and speech, and memory.
Trinkets you’ll need before I strip you naked.
Do reconsider.” And I said, “I’ll take it.”
Feet and The Bargain are to be published in Rhina’s new book,
And After All in 2018.
When We Sold the Tent
When we sold the tent
we threw in the Grand Canyon
with its shawl of pines,
lap full of cones and chipmunks
and crooked seams of river.
We let them have the
parched white moonscapes of Utah,
magnificat of flowers
sunbursting hill after hill.
Long gentle stretches
of Wyoming, rain outside
some sad Idaho
town where the children, giddy
with strange places, clowned all night.
Eyes like small veiled moons
circling our single light, sleek
shadows with pawprints,
all went with the outfit; and
youth, a river of campfires.
Published in Playing at Stillness
Rhina P. Espaillat