Sunday, October 4, 2020

Poem: My Father Was a Young Man Then

'My Father Was a Young Man' by Maria Mazziotti Gillan

This poem appeared October 3, 2020, on The Writer's Almanac with Garrison Keillor. 

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 in 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.

by Maria Mazziotti Gillan, from her collection, What Blooms in Winter 

Maria Mazziotti Gillan's most recent book is the poetry and photography collection, Paterson Light and Shadow . Her collection of poems paired with some of her paintings is The Girls in the Chartreuse Jackets.
Her new artist website is at and Maria's poetry website is at

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