Saturday, June 17, 2017

Two Poems for Fathers' Day

Two poems by Maria Mazziotti Gillan.

I Want to Write a Poem to Celebrate

my father’s arms, bulging and straining while he carries
the wooden box of dark purple grapes down the crumbling,
uneven cement steps into the cellar of the old house
on 19th street. The cellar, whitewashed by my mother,
grows darker as my father lumbers past the big coal
furnace and into the windowless wine room
at the very back where he will feed the grapes,
ripe and perfect and smelling of earth,
into the wine press. The grape smell changes
as they are crushed and drawn out into the fat
wooden barrels, and for weeks the cellar
will be full to the brim with the sweet smell
of grapes fermenting into wine, a smell I recognize
even forty years later each time I uncork a bottle,
an aroma that brings back my father
and his friends gathering under Zio Gianni’s
grape arbor to play briscole through long July
nights, small glasses before them, peach slices
gleaming like amber in the ruby wine.

First published in the Haight Ashbury Literary Journal and collected in What We Pass On: Collected Poems 1980-2009 (Guernica Editions 2010)

My Father Was a Young Man Then

Only 16, when he came from Italy alone,
moved into the Riverside neighborhood
full of Italians from Cilento—all of whom
spoke the same dialect, so it was as though
they had transported those mountain villages
to Paterson. At first, America was terrifying,
English, a language they could not master,
but my father was a young man
and he became friends with other young people
and they learned how to take buses and trains
or to borrow a car, and off they’d go
on the weekend to Rye Brook or Coney Island,
free from their factory jobs on the weekends,
reveling in the strength of their bodies,
the laughter and music and the company.

My father was a young man then,
and even when he died at 92,
he never lost the happiness
that bubbled up in him,
the irrepressible joy of being alive,
the love of being with friends.

I imagine him in that time
before he married my mother,
before we were born,
before he had a tumor on his spine
that left him with a limp.
Imagine him with his broad smile,
his booming laugh, his generous spirit,
his sharp intelligence,
imagine him as a young man,
his head full of dreams,
his love of politics and math,
the way he carried those qualities
all the way into old age,
though his legs failed him,
though his body grew trembling and frail,
his mind never did.

When I’d arrive at the house
all those years after mom died, he’d smile
at me with real pleasure,
the young man he was at 16 would emerge,
sit in the room with us
and laugh.

from What Blooms in Winter (NYQ Books, 2016)

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