Rhina P. Espaillat
At the Next Table
How beautiful their fingers when they sign,
lit by the steady candle! Waiters bring
rolls in a basket and uncork the wine;
the young man sips; then she; he nods. They sing
with their four hands. Now he inscribes the air
with urgencies her palms, tossed by the storm,
reply to. Why even try to look elsewhere!
This icy night, no other place seems warm
as the island of light they share, alone:
they do not sense us here with them at all,
eavesdropping on their silence from our own.
Homebound through sleet, hands clasped—afraid to fall!—
you and I will repeat, without a word,
the eloquent exchange we more than heard.
I confess it: this morning, I forgot.
Barely half awake, I left our bed
to watch the snow come down. And what a sight!
The earth all ermine, no defiling blot
anywhere. The sky, yesterday lead,
had harvested its jasmines overnight.
Gone, the earliest green; but there was light
from where numberless twirling petals sped
bewildered. A ghostly circle burned
faintly behind their dance: the sun! Not dead:
struggling to shine, to thaw the wintry clot,
to feed the green for which, in life, you yearned.
How glad I was! And said so, as I turned—
still smiling—to my bed, where you were not.
Dominican-born Rhina P. Espaillat is a bilingual poet, essayist, short story writer, translator, and former English teacher in New York City’s public high schools. She has published 12 books and five chapbooks, has earned numerous national and international awards, and is a founding member of the Fresh Meadows Poets of NYC and the Powow River Poets of Newburyport, MA, where she now lives. Her most recent poetry collections are And After All and The Field.