My father liked them separate, one there,

one here (allá y aquí), as if aware


that words might cut in two his daughter’s heart

(el corazón) and lock the alien part


to what he was—his memory, his name

(su nombre)—with a key he could not claim.


“English outside this door, Spanish inside,”

he said, “y basta.” But who can divide


the world, the word (mundo y palabra) from

any child? I knew how to be dumb


and stubborn (testaruda); late, in bed,

I hoarded secret syllables I read


until my tongue (mi lengua) learned to run

where his stumbled. And still the heart was one.


I like to think he knew that, even when,

proud (orgulloso) of his daughter’s pen,


he stood outside mis versos, half in fear

of words he loved but wanted not to hear.

Bibliographical info

Rhina P. Espaillat, "Bilingual/Bilingüe" from Where Horizons Go (Kirksville, MO: New Odyssey Books, 1998). Used by permission of the author.

Source: Where Horizons Go (New Odyssey Press, 1998)


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