Make your own free website on

Bilingual Sestina
Julia Alvarez

Some things I have to say aren't getting said
in this snowy, blonde, blue-eyed, gum chewing English,
dawn's early light sifting through the persianas closed
the night before by dark-skinned girls whose words 
evoke cama, aposento, suenos in nombres
from that first word I can't translate from Spanish.

Gladys, Rosario, Altagracia--the sounds of Spanish
wash over me like warm island waters as I say
your soothing names: a child again learning the nombres
of things you point to in the world before English
turned sol, tierra, cielo, luna to vocabulary words--
sun, earth, sky, moon--language closed

like the touch-sensitive morivivir. whose leaves closed 
when we kids poked them, astonished.  Even Spanish
failed us when we realized how frail a word 
is when faced with the thing it names.  How saying
its name won't always summon up in Spanish or English
the full blown genii from the bottled nombre.

Gladys, I summon you back with your given nombre
to open up again the house of slatted windows closed
since childhood, where palabras left behind for English
stand dusty and awkward in neglected Spanish.
Rosario, muse of el patio, sing in me and through me say
that world again, begin first with those first words

you put in my mouth as you pointed to the world--
not Adam, not God, but a country girl numbering
the stars, the blades of grass, warming the sun by saying
 el sol as the dawn's light fell through the closed
persianas from the gardens where you sang in Spanish,
Esta son las mananitas, and listening, in bed, no English
yet in my head to confuse me with translations, no English

doubling the world with synonyms, no dizzying array of words,
--the world was simple and intact in Spanish
awash with colores, luz, suenos, as if the nombres
were the outer skin of things, as if words were so close
to the world one left a mist of breath on things by saying

their names, an intimacy I now yearn for in English--
words so close to what I meant that I almost hear my Spanish
blood beating, beating inside what I say en ingles.