Poet-in-Residence Rhina P. Espaillat

Rhina P. Espaillat

Does anyone in Newburyport really need an introduction to Rhina? If America had a category for Living National Treasure, Rhina would be at the top of the list. Born in the Dominican Republic under the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo, her family was forced into exile and settled in New York City. She began writing poetry as a young girl in both Spanish and English and has never looked back. She settled in Newburyport thirty years ago and has been queen of the local scene ever since, even as her star has risen internationally.

This summer, Rhina’s poem “The Jury” will serve as libretto to the commissioned piece for soprano and string quartet by Composer-in-Residence Jon Deak. We are also using the occasion to treat our final concert as a kind of big party to celebrate Rhina, our Poet-in-Residence’s, ninetieth birthday. Please join us in August!

David Yang, Artistic Director

Rhina P. Espaillat

In a bare tree,
four strangers gathered from afar
slipped into talk, as travelers do.
First Eagle said, “How strange they are,

these creatures lately come to climb
our cliffs and spy upon our brood.
They have no constancy, but drift
from mood to mood:

first, wanton slaughter, and now zeal
to build our hunted tribe again.
I cannot fathom them at all.”
“They are called Men,”

said Pigeon, “and I know them well.
I’ve learned their secret. All they use,
from day to day, to guide their steps,
is just their shoes.

It’s true, my friends. In new spiked boots
yesterday’s farmer struts the street,
turned killer, and tomorrow dies
derelict, with rag-bound feet.

More out of sympathy than need,
I gather their spilled crumbs to know
toward what new grief
their wayward shoes would have them go.”

“And yet,” said Sparrow, “I have known
some who would leave their lighted nest
to scatter seed, through razor winds,
for our sake, lest

we hunger through December days.
I’ve seen them fling their gaze above
their comforts, to pursue us with
something like love.”

“True,” Vulture said, “for they love me
and have my welfare much in mind.
In Leningrad, in Lebanon
men were most kind

and nourished me with their own young.
Vietnam, Verdun, Angola, Troy,
Thermopylae…the love of men
is my chief joy.”

“Well, that’s as may be,” Eagle said,
“but they are feeble things at best.
Condemned to winglessness, they creep
in their own shadow, flight-obsessed,

a sad smudge upon the earth,
half-willingly erased at last.
We will posses our own again,
when they have passed.”

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