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by Maria Mazziotti Gillan |

THE MOMENT I KNEW MY LIFE HAD CHANGED

 It was not until later
that I knew, recognized the moment
for what it was, my life before it,
a gray landscape, shapeless and misty;
my life after, flowering full and leafy
as the cherry trees that only today
have torn into bloom.
Imagine: my cousin at 19, tall, slender.
She worked in New York City.
For my thirteenth birthday she took me to New York.
We ate at the Russian Tea Room where I was uncertain about which fork to use, intimidated by the women in their hats and furs, by the waiters who watched me as I struggled with the huge hunk of bread in the center of the onion soup in its steep bowl.
When we were ready to leave, I tried to give the tip back to my cousin.
I thought she had forgotten it.
She said, "No, it's for the waiter!" On 57th Street a man in a camel coat bumped into me, rushed on by.
My cousin said, "That was Eddie Fisher," but I said, "He's too short.
It can't be.
" I felt let down that Eddie Fisher, the star I was in love with that year, was so rude he never even said "excuse me.
" Then we went into the theater sat in the front row.
the stage sprang into colored light, and the glittery costumes, the singing, the magical story, drew me in, made me feel in that moment, that I would learn again and again, the miraculous language, the music of it.
My life, turning away from the constricted world of the 19th Street tenement, formed a line almost perpendicular to that old life, I moved toward it, breathed in this new air, racing toward a world filled with poems and music and books that freed me from everything that could have chained me to the ground.
Copyright © by Maria Mazziotti Gillan


by Maria Mazziotti Gillan |

I DREAM OF MY GRANDMOTHER AND GREAT-GRANDMOTHER

 I imagine them walking down rocky paths
toward me, strong, Italian women returning
at dusk from fields where they worked all day
on farms built like steps up the sides
of steep mountains, graceful women carrying water
in terra cotta jugs on their heads.
What I know of these women, whom I never met, I know from my mother, a few pictures of my grandmother, standing at the doorway of the fieldstone house in Santo Mauro, the stories my mother told of them, but I know them most of all from watching my mother, her strong arms lifting sheets out of the cold water in the wringer washer, or from the way she stepped back, wiping her hands on her homemade floursack apron, and admired her jars of canned peaches that glowed like amber in the dim cellar light.
I see those women in my mother as she worked, grinning and happy, in her garden that spilled its bounty into her arms.
She gave away baskets of peppers, lettuce, eggplant, gave away bowls of pasts, meatballs, zeppoli, loaves of homemade bread.
"It was a miracle," she said.
"The more I gave away, the more I had to give.
" Now I see her in my daughter, the same unending energy, that quick mind, that hand, open and extended to the world.
When I watch my daughter clean the kitchen counter, watch her turn, laughing, I remember my mother as she lay dying, how she said of my daughter, "that Jennifer, she's all the treasure you'll ever need.
" I turn now, as my daughter turns, and see my mother walking toward us down crooked mountain paths, behind her, all those women dressed in black Copyright 1998 © Maria Mazziotti Gillan.
All rights reserved.


by Maria Mazziotti Gillan |

LOVE POEM TO MY HUSBAND OF THIRTY-ONE YEARS

 I watch you walk up our front path, 
the entire right side of your body, 
stiff and unbending, your leg, 
dragging on the ground, 
your arm not moving.
Six different times you ask me the date of our daughter's wedding, seem surprised each time, forget who called, though you can name obscure desert animals, and every detail of events that took place in 3 B.
C.
You complain now of pain in your muscles, of swimming at the Y where a 76 year old man tells you you swim too slowly.
I imagine a world in which you cannot move.
Most days, I force myself to look only into the past; remember you, singing and playing your guitar: "Black, black is the color of my true love's hair," you sang, and each time you came into a room how my love for you caught in my throat, how handsome you were, how strong and muscular, how the sun lit your blond hair.
Now I pretend not to notice the trouble you have buttoning your shirt, and yes, I am terrified and no, I cannot tell you.
The future is a murky lake.
I am afraid of the monsters who wait just below its surface.
Even in our mahogany bed, I am not safe.
Each day, I swim toward everything I didn't want to know.
Copyright © 1997 by Maria Mazziotti Gillan, all rights reserved.


by Maria Mazziotti Gillan |

My Daughter at 14 Christmas Dance 1981

 Panic in your face, you write questions
to ask him.
When he arrives, you are serene, your fear unbetrayed.
How unlike me you are.
After the dance, I see your happiness; he holds your hand.
Though you barely speak, your body pulses messages I can read all too well.
He kisses you goodnight, his body moving toward yours, and yours responding.
I am frightened, guard my tongue for fear my mother will pop out of my mouth.
"He is not shy," I say.
You giggle, a little girl again, but you tell me he kissed you on the dance floor.
"Once?" I ask.
"No, a lot.
" We ride through rain-shining 1 a.
m.
streets.
I bite back words which long to be said, knowing I must not shatter your moment, fragile as a spun-glass bird, you, the moment, poised on the edge of flight, and I, on the ground, afraid.
Maria Mazziotti Gillan Copyright © 1995