“Work in Progress” by Rhina P. Espaillat

Rhina P. Espaillat


He showed me some, and asked for my advice.
I pointed out a line that wouldn’t scan,
a pair of rhymes that cried for a divorce,
and commented—but briefly—on the quotes
in foreign alphabets, unglossed. “Of course,”
he said, and nodded, and took notes,
as if OK with all of it.
And then
I added, “Put back every the and an
and a. It’s almost nothing, what they do,
but articles make what they say ring true.”
You never know what buttons not to touch,
which almost nothing’s going to prove too much.
This morning he submitted work again,
but brusque, defensive, with a hint of spice.
Only fool goes for walk in minefield twice:
next time I’ll tell him poem is very nice.

from Rattle #50, Winter 2015
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist

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Rhina P. Espaillat: “As a workshop instructor, I comment on a great many early drafts by poets, and know how tricky it is to do so not only diplomatically and truthfully but also effectively. This poem is a fictionalized account of one such effort. It ends by illustrating, with humor, the point I had failed to make with my rather dry advice to the poet. In this instance, my teaching was just as much a ‘work in progress’ as the poem I had been asked to comment on.”

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