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[This poem won the 1989 C. W. Post Library

Association Award for a Poet in the Community. . Ed.]



Cutting Bait


The trouble with the dead is how we need them

to play themselves for us, to keep us warm

in the curve of their being, as if they shared

the sun with us, wore our seasons like gloves.


Aching with absence, we tug at their deaths

to hold them:  how one bright old man forgot

our names, but quavered Puccini; another

dwindled between the sheets to sixty pounds

of paper bones and nerves and skin like glass;

and one bought roadside fruit for a sick friend

until a downhill truck with failed brakes found

her, dragged her spinning from the axle,

scattering peaches.


                                But they need to step

clear of us now; they send out mosses

and lichens to cover their human names,

they untangle themselves from our hunger,

our lame grief.  We bring them children, poems,

but nothing ever lures them back into their

gestures, the flesh we remember.


                                      Rhina P. Espaillat



From Landscapes with Women: Four American Poets,
Singular Speech Press, 1999; first published in Poetry;

reprinted by permission of the author.