June 18, 2013

Rhina P. Espaillat

FAMILIAR FACES

Familiar faces you can seldom name,
in thought, as in some supermarket aisle,
rush toward you, then goodbye—always the same.

At first, alarm; and then a flush of shame
because you’re not sure who’s behind that smile:
so many faces now that you can’t name!

They nod, as if establishing a claim
to be remembered here and now. Meanwhile,
you wonder if they’re wondering the same,

doing the alphabet—that silly game
in which you flip through memory’s tattered file
hoping some letter will retrieve a name.

Sometimes it works. Sometimes the social frame
almost succeeds: That was the Juvenile
Books author you once read with on the same

panel, or…the junior-high “old flame”
who exercised his most transparent guile
to kiss you. But how could you lose his name!

Sometimes you sense what distances they came
to visit you in dreams, wearing the style
of other decades, calling you by name.
It’s you, you think—but who? and still the same!

from Rattle #38, Winter 2012

[download audio]

Rhina P. Espaillat: “I fell in love with poetry at the age of four or five in my grandmother’s house in the Dominican Republic. She was a poet. She never published anything; she used to write mostly for family events, birthdays and things like that. But she was good. She had real grace with language, and she used to have a lot of friends who would come to the house and tell stories, and play the guitar and the piano, and recite poetry. So I heard poetry before I understood it. I didn’t know what the grown-ups were doing, but I knew I wanted to do it, because it looked like so much fun.” (website)