“Rhymes with Banish” by Rhina P. Espaillat

Rhina P. Espaillat


First she chimes “Nine-one-one.” In broken English
he stammers for “help, please,” and someone Spanish-
speaking to talk to. But before he’s finished,
she says, “We all speak English, sir, not Spanish.”
After a pause he says, sounding astonished,
“In Lawrence—I live here—nobody Spanish?”
as if to ask her, “When did we all vanish?”
But she is firm and curt: “We all speak English—
just English—here; we don’t know any Spanish.”
As she says it on tape it sounds like “punish.”

Poets Respond
August 9, 2015

[download audio]


Rhina P. Espaillat: “On August 3, 2015, in Lawrence, MA (an immigrant city where a high proportion of the population comes from Latin America and Asia), a 911 responder received a call from a man in need of help who asked for a Spanish-speaking person to whom he could describe his emergency. When challenged after the incident over her inadequate response to the caller, the responder explained that she didn’t turn him over to one of the Spanish-speaking workers available because she could tell from the caller’s tone of voice that there was nothing seriously wrong.” (website)

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