Bilingual/Bilingüe

By Rhina P. Espaillat b. 1932
My father liked them separate, one 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 basta.” 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.

Rhina P. Espaillat, “Bilingual/Bilingüe” from Where Horizons Go (Kirksville, MO: New Odyssey Books, 1998). Used with the permission of the author.

Source: Where Horizons Go (New Odyssey Press, 1998)

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Poet Rhina P. Espaillat b. 1932

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Subjects Family & Ancestors, Social Commentaries, Home Life, Relationships

Poetic Terms Couplet

 Rhina P. Espaillat

Biography

Rhina P. Espaillat was born in the Dominican Republic under the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo. After Espaillat’s great-uncle opposed the regime, her family was exiled to the United States and settled in New York City. She began writing poetry as a young girl—in Spanish and then English—and has published in both languages. Espaillat has published 11 poetry collections, including Lapsing to Grace (1992); Where Horizons Go . . .

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Poems by Rhina P. Espaillat

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Family & Ancestors, Social Commentaries, Home Life, Relationships

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Poetic Terms Couplet

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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