June 18, 2013

Rhina P. Espaillat


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]