Rhina P. Espaillat

Idle Comments

After the service, when the neighbors left,
breathing their last condolences like prayers,
it startled him that he was not bereft.

He'd enjoyed lunch, in fact. The last eclairs
still on their sugared doily, rolls of ham,
his wife's old cousin's gift of home-made jam,
all hinted at the care others would take,
henceforth, of him and of his few affairs.
Someone would look through papers, and the heirs
would be informed; there would be claims to make
and forms to file; his son would sell the car.

He smiled and turned to tell her so, before
remembering that she was much too far
to hear his idle comments any more.

“Tu y yo”

“Ladan and Laleh Bijani…died…yesterday
after being surgically separated.”

      NY Times, July 9, 2003

They’re “Crown of Thorns” in English, image bent
on conjuring both pain and ornament;
but in my native soil and sunnier speech,
these silent coral bells grow, each from each
in amorous absorption, as “tu y yo,”
or “Thou and I.” They do, as lovers know,
that sternest trick of all (at least they try):
remaining side by side until they die.

Those sisters who, joined at the head from birth,
flowered as one, could only guess the worth
of solitude denied them all their lives,
but knew deep in their bones (better than wives
and husbands do whose pairings may not last)
the joy of one shared future and one past.

What price such joys, such freedoms, as oppose
each other, when the route those sisters chose—
the scalpel—closes the journey? Journeys do,
of course, close, always: and the two-by-two
small floral marriages I trim and tend
collapse as single blossoms in the end.
I pick away the withered ones, and leave
the widowed on their stems. They do not grieve.

Luckily metaphors collapse as well,
and even doting gardeners can tell
these blooms that grace the thorns until they fall
have nothing much to say to us at all
about what loves we know—holy, profane,
rejoiced in for a time, outlived in pain.

We Regret to Inform You

How can she save her son, still in his teens—
still living, while the silence is unbroken—
from what this officer in his dress greens
must do with words that threaten to be spoken?

The bomb or bullet, ceremonial knife
or flame (she will not hear which one it was)
struggle to find a foothold, spring to life
on her New Hampshire porch, right now, to cause—

but no, no one must name it, at her door
where he says “Ma’am,” insistent, through a crack
he cannot pry a millimeter more,
she cannot close again to turn him back.


Rhina P. Espaillat has published three chapbooks and five full-length poetry collections, most recently The Story-teller's Hour (Scienter Press, 2004), The Shadow I Dress In (David Robert Books, 2004), and Playing at Stillness (Truman State University Press, 2005).


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