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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 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.

                                               In ’44,

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.

The Bargain


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,

and Colorado’s

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

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