Poet of the Month

2021: Poets featured as Poet of the Month 

January: Rebecca Lowe (Wales).
February: Jim Gronvold (USA). 
March: Carolyn Mary Kleefeld (USA).
April: Tozan Alkan (Turkey).
May: Byron Beynon (Wales).
June: Michelle Chung (USA). 
July: Jim Gwyn (USA).
August: Jonathan Taylor (England).
September: Beata Poźniak (USA).
October: Maria Taylor (England).
November: Stanley H. Barkan (USA).
December: John Dotson (USA).

2022: Poets featured as Poet of the Month 

January: Maria Mastrioti (Greece).
February: Gayl Teller (USA).
March: Mike Jenkins (Wales).
April: Cassian Maria Spiridon (Romania).
May: Simon Fletcher (England)
June: Sultan Catto (USA)
July: Vojislav Deric (Australia)
August: K. S. Moore (Ireland)
September: Kristine Doll (USA)
October: Tammy Nuzzo-Morgan (USA)
November: Christopher Norris (Wales)

 DECEMBER POET OF THE MONTH:
MARIA MAZZIOTTI GILLAN, USA
Maria Mazziotti Gillan (c) 2022 Maria Mazziotti Gillan

Maria Mazziotti Gillan is winner of the 2014 George Garrett Award for Outstanding Community Service in Literature from AWP, the 2011 Barnes & Noble Writers for Writers Award from Poets & Writers, and the 2008 American Book Award for her book, All That Lies Between Us. She has also received The Clara Lemlich Award for Social Activism (May 2022), and a Lifetime Achievement in the Arts award from the Center for Creative and Performing Arts at Salem State University (March 2020). She is the Founder/Executive Director of the Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College, editor of the Paterson Literary Review, and Professor Emerita in creative writing at Binghamton University—SUNY. She has published 23 books, including her latest book, When the Stars Were Visible (Stephen F. Austin University Press, April, 2021). Visit her website at www.mariagillan.com .

 

Claiming My True Name

It took me years to claim my true name,
so many years layered in shame,
so many years trying to hide my immigrant self and my true name.
Looking back, I know what I wanted when I saw you,
Love, that first time at your friend’s house,
you with your blond boyish looks,
your handsome face,
your wide gray eyes,
your big white colonial house,
your educated American parents.
Did I imagine that by marrying you
I could erase all those z’s and t’s in my name,
change it all like an old coat I could give away,
and put on instead what I thought
was the sleek Americanness of your name
and I would be able to erase my ethnic face,
my frizzy hair?
How I wanted to deny the foreign girl I was,
the one who didn’t speak English when I went to school,
deny my Italian parents, and the cold water flat,
leave them all behind and slide
right into the life of America that I was sure I wanted.
Years later, I realize I had traded away everything
that shaped me, traded away

this song that beat in my blood,
the aroma of the ethnic food I loved,
and only then staring into a void as big as the Grand Canyon,
did I claim my true name,
wrap all those z’s and t’s around me like a cashmere shawl,
and force people to use my true name,
even when they stumble over it and they have to ask,
“Is this the way you pronounce your name?”
And I pronounce it for them,
waving it in the air like a banner,proud of my Italian-self,
proud of all the things that marked me
as unique, as different, a foreign creature
who can at last claim my own true name.


Ginestra and Cotton Sheets

My mother, when she was a girl living on that mountain top in Italy,
did not have cotton. They used, instead, a wild plant called ginestra
which they dried and wove into fabric for towels and clothes.
It was rough and strong.
My mother brought the towels she embroidered on this cloth
with her from Italy in a big trunk that became part of her dowry.
She would not enter her marriage without linens to use in her new life.
In America, she got a job sewing the lining in the coats
in a factory filled with other immigrant women
who were also paid by the pieces they finished.
What she wanted for each of her children was to fill a trunk with biancheria,
linens we would use in our own married lives,
so she bought white cotton sheets and pillowcases
and put them aside in a trunk to keep them pristine.
My mother loved the cotton sheets she bought for herself
and she wanted us to have them, too. What I remember in my girlhood bed
was slipping between those cotton sheets
that my mother had washed in the wringer washer
and hung out on the line in the backyard to dry in the sun.
The sheets were smooth and beautiful, softened,
by my mother’s washing,
by hanging them out in the fresh air to dry,
by the iron she used to smooth out any wrinkles.
My bed, with her cotton sheets, smelled of sun and fresh air,
an aroma I remember, even now,
so many years since that time as a young girl
when I’d slide into those cotton sheets
where I always felt safe and loved.


Carrying Their Hometowns to Paterson

On the street where I grew up,
everyone knew everyone else.
We knew each other’s secrets,
though we pretended we didn’t.
Our street was lined with
two-and three-family houses
full of immigrants from southern Italy.
There was one young Irish couple
…they moved out quickly.
Another Italian family moved in.
These immigrants came from Cilento
and Calabria and Sicily. Paterson, at the time,
had fifty Italian societies,
named for different southern Italian regions and towns.
My father belonged to the Cilentano society
where he went to play cards
and argue about politics with the other men.
The members of the ladies auxiliary cooked
spaghetti dinners for the men
at least once a month. On our street
it was as though these new immigrants
carried their hometowns to Paterson,
carrying their dialects and mores
and the pungent cheeses their relatives sent to them
so they’d have a piece of home
to remind them of the past.
On summer evenings they would sit around
oilcloth-covered tables under the grape arbors
they had planted, playing cards and talking.
They needed their countrymen to replace the relatives
they had left behind in those Italian villages,
those people they never saw again who became
like stick figures, gradually fading into lines
from the blue air-mail letters they sent and received,
and they worked hard in America where the streets
were not paved in gold, but where they knew
they could give their children better lives
than what they could have given them
if they’d stayed in the mountain villages
they called home.


What Do I Know about Grief

What do I know about grief
or how Death would follow me like a determined lover,
taking first my mother, father, sister, my best friend of forty-two years,
then my husband, more friends each year,
how his bony finger would point at the next person.
Once I walked into a spider web
and I think grief is like that—
it catches in your hair and your lashes.

My friend’s husband died after a short and brutal illness.
They were close as two spoons. When he died,
she told me she had always been happy
just to be in their apartment with him,
even passing him in the hallway felt like an act of love.

In the weeks after my husband died,
in the months waterlogged with tears,
I thought I would not survive, but gradually
I began to imagine that he came back to visit me,
a shadow in the corner of the room,
a presence sitting in a chair beside me,
though, of course, he could never stay long.
I am comforted by his ghost self.
I am sure he is telling me that he is content in that other world
where I cannot touch him.
I am grateful there is a door
through which he can pass to visit me,
even for a moment, his ghost hand on my cheek.


What My Father Taught Me

Why is it only now
so many years after you died that I realize
how much you taught me by the way you lived your life,
how you reached out to others,
how you always offered to help,
how you always let cars go ahead of you
when you were waiting to turn onto a busy road.

How many times did I mock you?
How impatient and rude I was,
annoyed by your wide smile,
your crooked teeth,
the way you drank your coffee from a saucer
as all the immigrant Italians did,
that powerless leg you dragged wherever you went.

Now, with my own legs failing me,
I can see you struggling to keep on doing everything you could.
Outgoing, joyous, fun-loving, you were secretary of the Società Cilento
in Paterson, NJ for fifty-two years,
kept their books, minutes of each meeting.
So often you drove people to the Italian consulate
to sign papers to bring their families to America.
Every day you visited your friends for a few hours,
cards and conversation until age eight-six,
when you could no longer drive.
Even when you were in a wheelchair,
nothing could still your curious mind,
your love of politics and history,
your mathematical intelligence

We were so alike you and I,
both loving people,
loving being there for others and hearing their stories,
both ready to reach out to the world and to others.
I wish I could tell you what I should have told you
when you were still alive,
how much you taught me about courage and never giving up.
Forgive me for all I didn’t understand,
for wanting you to be the middle-class father you could never be.

Praise to you for all you taught me about generosity and grace,
for never forgetting how to laugh,
and for always opening your arms and welcoming others in.


Poems (c) 2002 Maria Mazziotti Gillan