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    Poem: “A Backward Look”

    By Rhina P. Espaillat

    May 7, 2021
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    The perfect girls our Mamas meant to rear
    seldom appear,

    or never, now. Back in my time, wherever
    some clever

    daughter mouthed off in public, or defied
    the social guide,

    or thought she could—with arguments!—debate
    her elders, fate,

    Mama took her aside, not to upset her,
    but teach her better:

    Be quiet. Sit. Don’t make me say it twice.
    Prickly advice.

    Some of us turned out much like Mama, though
    a silent “No!”

    crept into every dialogue, and kept
    some secrets swept

    into dark corners. But, different altogether,
    sons prospered, whether

    they matched a pattern set by father, mother,
    or chose some other—

    all by themselves!—from the adventurings
    of ruthless kings,

    or buccaneers, or gods from pagan days,
    with Papa’s praise

    and Mama’s pride. Everybody enjoys
    rearing their boys.

    Do they break things, mess up, fight, swear and spit?
    Get over it.


    Read an interview with the poet.

    Contributed By portrait of Rhina Espaillat Rhina P. Espaillat

    Rhina P. Espaillat, a bilingual poet, is winner of numerous prizes including the T. S. Eliot Prize, the Richard Wilbur Award, and (twice) the Howard Nemerov Sonnet award.

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