Per Contra Spring 2009 Light Verse Supplement


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Rhina P. Espaillat



On Being Trampled by an Unexpectedly Alert Fellow
Subway Rider Bearing a Copy of The Wisdom of the East

I wish that people
in tune with all things Asian
from Tibetan chants

to Shinto shrines and
the Wheel of Transmigration
would pause to think Om

and forget the flesh
when one seat becomes vacant
and I head for it


Either we clean out the attic
or we nail it shut

Either we rearrange the closets
or we go naked

Either we replace the bathroom tiles
or we grow ferns in the cracks

Either we have the carpet cleaned
or we put down gravel

Either we repaper the kitchen
or we spraypaint it black

Either we reorganize the basement
or we flood it for swimming

Photo Wall

Here are the dead, posed beyond thrill or panic,
as in portholes of some unlaunched Titanic.
Where are the living? Blurred with change, with motion,
bailing away, adrift on the one ocean.


When is which,
which is that?
When it folds
feeling flat.

When is wrong
just as right?
Watch it swell,
spill to fight.

Too much that,
too much which.
Let it go.
Hostile bitch.

Sic transit...

When the fare box eats
my dollar, I always think
of graves smacking their lips
over the living.

The lizard's tongue flicks
out, flicks in. Where is the bright
careless fly? The leaf
trembles where she was.

Warm in the noon sun,
the house is an empty frame.
In transit we vanish,
like George Washington.



Rhina P. Espaillat, Dominican-born and bilingual, has translated poetry into and out of English and her native Spanish, and composes poems, essays and short stories in both languages. Her eight books and three chapbooks include, most recently, Her Place in These Designs, Playing at Stillness, (collections of her poems in English; Agua de dos rios/Water from Two Rivers, bilingual poems and essays; and El olor de la memoria/The Scent of Memory, bilingual short stories. She has won several national awards, including the T. S. Eliot Prize in Poetry, the Richard Wilbur Award, the Oberon Prize, the Frost Foundation's "Tree at My Window" Award, and various prizes from the Poetry Society of America and the New England Poetry Club, as well as a number of honors from the Dominican Ministry of Culture and the City University of New York. Her work appears frequently in literary magazines, anthologies and websites. She lives in Newburyport, MA, where she is active with the Powow River Poets.


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