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Bilingual/Bilingüe

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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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Bilingual/Bilingüe

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  • 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 (1998), winner of the 1998 T.S. Eliot Prize; Rehearsing Absence (2001), recipient of the 2001 Richard Wilbur Award; Playing at Stillness (2005); and a bilingual chapbook titled Mundo y Palabra/The World and the Word (2001).
    On Rehearsing Absence, Robert Shaw wrote in Poetry,“To Rhina Espaillat the quotidian is no malady . . . it is the source of inspiration. Hers is a voice of experience, but it is neither jaded nor pedantic. She speaks not from some cramped corner but from somewhere close to the center...

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