Sunday, May 14, 2017

Poem: The Little General

A poem for this Mother's Day

The Little General

My brother called our mother “the little general”
when we were teenagers, my brother driving

the car, my mother sitting next to him, her head
a small dark knob barely reaching the top of the seat,

my bossy mother who told us how to live our lives,
my mother who was always moving. when I

remember her, I see her almost as a blur,
like the cartoon of the road runner, my mother

who washed all the dishes as soon as the last bite
of food vanished from the plate, my mother who held

my doctor brother’s foot until he fell asleep when he
was still a boy, my mother who sat at the kitchen table

with us, always ready to hear the stories of our lives,
ready to tell the story of hers, my mother who told me

everything that was wrong with me so I still hear her voice
though she said she told me for my own good,

my mother who loved the feel of the earth on her hands,
who smelled of flour and spices, who baked

thousands of loaves of bread, cooked innumerable
fragrant meals for her children and grandchildren

in the basement kitchen, my mother who taught me
how to laugh, my mother who could not read and write,

and although she wanted to go to school, my father
wouldn't let her, “Women don't need to go to school,” he said,

my mother who did not know how much money my father
had in the bank and never wrote a check,

my mother who wanted to learn how to do
everything, my mother who could quote poems

she memorized in third grade in Italy before
she had to leave school, my mother who drew

an imaginary line around us to keep us close,
the front stoop our boundary, the family country,

her little sturdy body better than any magic charm,
my mother whose skin turned orange before

she died, though the week before she got sick,
she planted a huge garden. We were sure

she was too powerful to die. Ma, even now,
ten years after the funeral procession led us

to Calvary Cemetery and to the mausoleum drawer
they filed you in, I wish I could drive over

to your house and find you there, your earthly humor,
your warm arms that were the place

I call home.

by Maria Mazziotti Gillan, from The Place I Call Home 

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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