“Find Work”

By Rhina P. Espaillat b. 1932

I tie my Hat—I crease my Shawl—
Life's little duties do—precisely
As the very least
Were infinite—to me—
—Emily Dickinson, #443

My mother’s mother, widowed very young
of her first love, and of that love’s first fruit,
moved through her father’s farm, her country tongue
and country heart anaesthetized and mute
with labor. So her kind was taught to do—
“Find work,” she would reply to every grief—
and her one dictum, whether false or true,
tolled heavy with her passionate belief.
Widowed again, with children, in her prime,
she spoke so little it was hard to bear
so much composure, such a truce with time
spent in the lifelong practice of despair.
But I recall her floors, scrubbed white as bone,
her dishes, and how painfully they shone.

Source: Poetry (February 1999).

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This poem originally appeared in the February 1999 issue of Poetry magazine

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February 1999
 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 Midlife, Family & Ancestors, Living, Disappointment & Failure, Growing Old, Relationships, Sorrow & Grieving, Parenthood

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Poetic Terms Sonnet

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