Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Poem: Donna Laura

Donna Laura
by Maria Mazziotti Gillan

Donna Laura, they called my grandmother when they saw her
sitting in the doorway, sewing delicate
tablecloths and linens, hours of sewing bent over the cloth, an
occupation for a lady, Donna Laura,

with her big house falling to ruins around her head, Donna
Laura, whose husband left for Argentina
when she was 24, left her with seven children and no money and
her life in that southern Italian village

where the old ladies watched her from their windows so that she
could not have taken a breath without
everyone knowing, Donna Laura who each
day sucked on the
bitter seed of her husbands failure to send

money and to remember her long auburn hair. Donna Laura who
relied on the kindness of the priest's
"housekeeper" to provide food for her family. Everyone in the
village knew

my grandmother's fine needlework could not support seven
children, but everyone pretended
not to see the housekeeper carrying food to Donna Laura each
day. Even when she was 90,

She still lived in that mountain house. Was her heart a bitter
raisin, her anger so deep
it could have cut a road through the mountain? I touch the
tablecloth she made,

the delicate scrollwork, try to reach back to Donna Laura, feel
her life shaping itself into laced patterns
and scalloped edges from all those years between her young
womanhood and old age.

Only this cloth remains, old and perfect still, turning her
bitterness into art
to teach her granddaughters and great granddaughters to spin
sorrow into gold.

"Donna Laura" by Maria Mazziotti Gillan, from Italian Women in Black Dresses, 2003