Rhina P. Espaillat


How It’s Done

If a lie helps you, try it:
those who like you will buy it,
and the others don’t matter.
Keep repeating your patter.

Rumors may not be true,
but if one works for you,
hey, that’s fine, it’ll do.
Facts are best when they vary.
Make the threats vague and scary,
then repeat and repeat them
till no truth can beat them.

Keep it simple and short:
let no factual report
interfere with your story
of the rival who’s gory
and deceitful and sinister
as Lucifer’s minister.

If there’s something you hid
but some girl swears you did,
say she’s ugly, or fat.
Some will love you for that!
Then forget that you lied
and admit—but with pride—
what at first you denied.

They’ll applaud what you’ve done,
those who like you. Each one
wants to do just the same,
but they’re stuck with self-blame
and still hampered by shame,
unlike you, who have none.

The Legislative Far Right Weighs In on Birth Control and School Lunches

We’re pledged to save each blastula, each gastrula and fetus
from all the godless lefties who are running to unseat us.
But once you’re born, alive and hungry, kid, you’re on your own:
outside the womb, there’s no free lunch: don’t text; don’t write; don’t phone.

Overheard on Mount Sinai

But what if he’s not lovable? As not
all neighbors are, of course: some beat their wives
and children, others talk nothing but rot
and do nothing worth doing all their lives.

I’m for commandments, yes, but love is no
hired menial summoned with Come here!
any more than the sun, or wind, or snow.
Obedience will come running; so will fear;

but will they stay the night? The watchman leaves,
and they slip out unseen. Sometimes, it’s true,
we can be just; and when a neighbor grieves,
we can be kindly. But can even you

demand love … as thyself … from flesh and bone?
Everything’s easy to inscribe in stone.

“Overheard on Mount Sinai” first appeared in Key West Literary Seminar #28: Clearing the Sill of the World.

Rhina P. Espaillat has published 10 full-length books and three chapbooks, comprising poetry, essays and short stories, in both English and her native Spanish, and translations from and into Spanish. Her work appears in numerous journals, over 70 anthologies, and dozens of websites, and has earned national and international awards, including the T. S. Eliot Prize in Poetry; the Richard Wilbur Award; the Howard Nemerov Prize; the May Sarton Award; the Robert Frost “Tree at My Window” Prize for translation; several honors from the New England Poetry Club, the Poetry Society of America, and the Ministry of Culture of the Dominican Republic; and a Lifetime Achievement Award from Salem State College. Espaillat’s most recent publications are two poetry collection in English titled Playing at Stillness and Her Place in These Designs. She has also published a book of Spanish translations titled Oscura fruta/Dark Berries: Forty-two Poems by Richard Wilbur, and a book of Spanish translations titled Algo hay que no es amigo de los muros/Something There Is that Doesn’t Love a Wall: Forty Poems by Robert Frost, both available from Amazon.com. She is a frequent reader, speaker and workshop leader, and is active with the Powow River Poets, a notable group she co-founded in 1992.