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by Maria Mazziotti Gillan |


 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 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 |


 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