In the Still Photograph, Paterson, New Jersey, Circa 1950
We are standing in a backyard
part of a porch is visible, a lattice
heavy with roses, a small tree.
Beyond the bushes in the background,
a woman with her hand on her hip
stares at us.
My father is young. He squints
into the sun. He wears a white shirt,
a flowered tie, a pair of gabardine pants
and dress shoes. His hair is thick
and crew cut. My mother wears high-heeled
black shoes with a strap across the ankle
and nylons and a black dress
printed with large flowers,
her hair, bobbed end neat.
her arm, bent at the elbow,
looks strong and firm.
I cannot see her expression clearly,
but I think she is smiling.
Her hand is on my sister Laura's arm.
Laura stands between them.
She is 13, her skin clear and beautiful.
Alex and I share a small stool
in front of the 3 grouped
behind us, my long-haired run back
in a straight line. I sit
behind him. He's about 7,
slim and dressed up in imitation
of my father, except Alex wears a bow tie.
His knees look sharp
and bony through his pants,
his hands clasped together
between his knees.
Even in the standard family picture,
we do not look American.
I think of my mother's preparations:
the rough feel of the washcloth
and Lifebuoy soap against my face,
the stiff, starched feel of my blouse,
the streets of Paterson, old and cracked,
the houses leaning together
like crooked teeth, the yards
that grow larger as we climb the hill,
the immigrant gardens.
We walk back home
in early evening, after the grownups
have espresso and anisette and
we, small jelly glasses of juice.
My brother's hand in mine, I pretend
to be grown up. Dreams
cluster around my head
like a halo, while crickets
fill the summer evening
with their shining web of song.
"In the Still Photograph, Paterson, New Jersey, Circa 1950"
by Maria Mazziotti Gillan,
from Light-Gathering Poems, edited by Liz Rosenberg
Maria Mazziotti Gillan's most recent books are the poetry and photography collection, Paterson Light and Shadow and the poetry collection, What Blooms in Winter . Her collection of poems along with some of her paintings is The Girls in the Chartreuse Jackets . Maria's official website is MariaGillan.com.