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Maria Mazziotti Gillan: Poet & Editor Italian American Writers of New Jersey

Love Poem to My Husband of 31 Years |
Dream of My Gandmother & Great Grandmother|
What A Liar I Am

Maria Mazziotti Gillan is the Founder and the Executive Director of the Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College in Paterson, NJ. She is also the Director of the Creative Writing Program / The Binghamton Center for Writers, and a Professor of Poetry at Binghamton University-State University of New York. She has published eleven books of poetry, including The Weather of Old Seasons, Where I Come From, Things My Mother Told Me, Italian Women in Black Dresses and her latest book, All That Lies Between Us. She is co-editor with her daughter Jennifer of four anthologies: Unsettling America, Identity Lessons, and Growing Up Ethnic in America and Italian-American Writers on New Jersey. She is the editor of the Paterson Literary Review. Her work has appeared in Prairie Schooner, New Letters, The New York Times, Poetry Ireland, Connecticut Review, The Los Angeles Review, The Christian Science Monitor, LIPS, and Rattle, as well as in numerous other journals and anthologies. Ms. Gillan has won the 2008 Chancellor’s Award for Scholarship and Creative Endeavor from Binghamton University, the 2008 Sheila Motton Award, Primo Nazionale Belmoro, the First Annual John Fante and Pietro di Donato Award, the Aniello Lauri Award, the May Sarton Award, the Fearing Houghton Award, New Jersey State Council on the Arts Fellowships in Poetry, and the American Literary Translators Association Award through a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. She has also received the New Jersey Governor’s Award for Literary Outreach and The Dare to Imagine Award from Very Special Arts. Her poems have been read by Garrison Keillor on The Writer’s Almanac. She has been interviewed and read her poems on Nartional Public Radio’s (NPR) “All Things Considered”, “the Brian Lehrer Show”, “the Poet and the Poem”, “the Leonard Lopate Show”, as well as “in honor of National Poetry Month”, “The Charles Osgood Show” on CBS-Radio, also on Pacifica Radio, and Voice of America. She has also been featured on several PBS-TV (Public Broadcasting System) programs. Her books have been chosen as Editor’s Choice by Booklist, New York Public library Book List, and one of the American Library Association’s Outstanding Books for Lifelong Learners.

Samples of Maria Mazziotti-Gillan's poems follow and are linked @ top of page:


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.


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.


I have been lying for a long time now, the sicker you get the
more I lie to myself most of all. I cannot say how angry
I am that this illness is another person in our house, so lies are the only way to get through each day. How hard it is

to admit that I am often impatient and raging and that anger is a
pit I can never swallow, that love, even mine for you who have
been with me for forty years, cannot dissolve
the hank of loneliness that has become lodged

in my throat, the irritating squeaking of your electric
wheelchair, the way I want to run away from the putrid smell
the medicines make rising from your skin, the way
I lie and lie so you won’t know how heavy this illness

feels—how long it has been going on, sixteen years now—and
the way your feet dragging along the carpet when you can still walk is like a fingernail on a blackboard. This is all too much
for you,
you say and I reassure you, no, not for

you, nothing is too much for you.
I am a burden you say, and
no, no I say. Not a burden. The face I see in my mirror is not
one I want to see, impatient, frazzled, selfish. Oh love, I could not have imagined it would come to this,

a moment when I can only live by lying to myself and you, you with your pitiful, begging eyes, you with your reedy voice calling me for help, you a clanging bell that calls me, you whom I love, but cannot carry.

All poems Copyright ©1998-2008 by Maria Mazziotti Gillan. Used by permission of the author. All rights including electronic rights, reserved.

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