David Robert Books: The Art of Poetry

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Site design: Skeleton

Sample Poems by Rhina Espaillat

Hotel

Noises behind the wall kept him awake
till late: a bickering that seemed so near-
as if inside the bedding-he could make
sense, almost, of words he strained to hear
despite himself. After a shallow dream
he woke to morning bleeding through the gap
where the drapes failed to meet. A rush of steam
urged him to up and out, and then a tap
turned by some stranger in the neighboring shower.
He knew he couldn't face the rain that slid
down fourteen stories of a grimy tower
to midtown traffic. But he rose, and did,
and at the corner diner stirred the cup
stirred by the silent stranger looking up.




Idle Comments

After the service, when the neighbors left,
breathing their last condolences like prayers,
it startled him that he was not bereft.

He'd enjoyed lunch, in fact. The last eclairs
still on their sugared doily, rolls of ham,
his wife's old cousin's gift of home-made jam,
all hinted at the care others would take,
henceforth, of him and of his few affairs.
Someone would look through papers, and the heirs
would be informed; there would be claims to make
and forms to file; his son would sell the car.

He smiled and turned to tell her so, before
remembering that she was much too far
to hear his idle comments any more.





Matinee

A stranger in a splint, shoulder to thumb,
is clearly relishing the show: in fact,
laughing out loud beside me, overcome
by Aristophanes. But he is wracked
when, half oblivious of his bones (because
pleasure distracts us from the carnal place
that pain assigns us), he attempts applause.
Each time he does it, scribbled on his face
the body's memo reads, I told you so.
You'd think he would remember, but I see
him lift both hands, as if he didn't know
that he will flinch again, when memory
repeats the lesson he must learn anew.
My palms are raw with making noise for two.





Rite

The summer drownings have begun:
the seventh-and it's only May!-
has brought this ordinary day
a new capacity to stun.

They seem familiar on the screen:
the would-be rescuer whose dive
failed, and the family of five
just four, now that the prankster teen,

who loved to tease the tide, is caught
in strands of silky blue, and bound,
for once, to matter more profound.
Now from the depth of their one thought,

scanning the river's purling foam,
they bow, like suppliants in a frieze,
as if still hoping to appease
currents that might return him home.




A Rondeau for Rachel

In Rachel's room the books are stacked
at random on tall shelves, and packed
three layers deep, with items piled
criss-cross on what's beneath-a wild
Tower of Babel all knick-knacked:

Here, Chinese puzzles; there, a cracked
jewel-case that begs to be ransacked;
and who's this sunny, curly child
in Rachel's room?

Rachel herself, crookedly tacked
beside one shelf, caught in the act:
smiling, as years ago she smiled,
and now for me, the guest beguiled
by girl and print and artifact
in Rachel's room.




We Regret to Inform You

How can she save her son, still in his teens-
still living, while the silence is unbroken-
from what this officer in his dress greens
must do with words that threaten to be spoken?

The bomb or bullet, ceremonial knife
or flame (she will not hear which one it was)
struggle to find a foothold, spring to life
on her New Hampshire porch, right now, to cause-

but no, no one must name it, at her door
where he says "Ma'am," insistent, through a crack
he cannot pry a millimeter more,
she cannot close again to turn him back.