Monday, May 1, 2017

Poem: In Our House Nobody Ever Said

In Our House Nobody Ever Said

In our house, nobody ever said you’re ugly.
My sister was beautiful with her white, white skin,
her full lips, her chocolate brown eyes, her straight teeth.
She is to the right of me in this studio photo
my mother bought from a photographer who traveled
door to door in the Riverside section of Paterson.
My brother is on the left, his wide dark eyes
in his sweet face that looks solemn, self-contained,
as he does now, a doctor for more than forty years.
In the middle, I stare into the camera.
My hair a tangle of black curls, my lips formed
into a shy smile. I know that I am not beautiful.
Even then I knew it. I look like I am plugged into
an electric socket, energy crackling off
me, as though I already have things I need to do,
and I can’t wait.

In our house, we all had our place:
my brother engrossed in encyclopedias my parents bought
on time from a door-to-door salesman,
my sister off to play baseball with the boys on 25th Street,
her body strong and athletic,
and I, who always had a book in my hand, even at the dinner table,
I, who found in books the life I wasn’t brave enough
to live, who found in language the beauty that lifted me
out of the constraints of my world, the cold-water tenement apartment, the coal stove, the raggedy linoleum, the light bulb hanging from a cord over the oil-cloth covered table.

When I announced at 17 that I wanted to be a poet,
nobody ever said “You are insane. How will you earn
a living?” Instead, my mother, who sewed the lining in coats
in the factories of Paterson, saved pennies every week
for a year until she had enough to buy me
a pink Smith Corona portable typewriter in a pink case,
so I could be the writer she knew I wanted to be.

by Maria Mazziotti Gillan

Maria Mazziotti Gillan is the author of twenty-one books. Her latest publications are the poetry collection, What Blooms in Winter and the poetry and art collection, The Girls in the Chartreuse Jackets . Maria's official website is at

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