Wednesday, April 15, 2020
Poem: Ghost Voices
Ghost voices trail behind me like silk scarves,
all my dead still live inside me
even years after they have passed
over to that other world.
My mother's voice, sardonic and practical,
my mother, who spent a lot of time criticizing everything I did,
although she said if she didn't tell me, who would?
My mother, who held me at her round kitchen table,
patting my back, saying, Cry, cry. It will do you good,
though she told me she had forgotten how to cry.
My father's voice telling stories of his younger days
after he arrived from Italy at 16,
stories of how he met my mother,
stories of the heroes he'd so admired—
JFK and FDR, my political, radical father
sitting with me every night after my mother died
until he, himself, passed at 92.
My sister, her voice wobbly, calling me at 7 PM,
asking when I was going to be at her house,
my sister, who was ill and frightened, so much so,
she needed me to just sit and hold her fragile hand every night
while she talked about her life and all she remembered.
My husband, so athletic and strong, beset by illness
that robbed him of everything he cherished—
swimming, running, riding his bike, driving a car,
even his mind,
and his voice, softer and softer, almost a whisper,
his voice saying I love you into my ear,
his world populated by ghosts
who came to visit him in the months before he died,
ghosts, who told him they were saving a place for him.
The others that I have lost
now wait their turn to speak,
but my ancestors' voices
I can only imagine since I never met them,
left behind in Italy,
where the only words they had for me were
blue air mail letters
that made my mother's heart ache.
They too, have become ghosts.
Is that the fate of all of us?
All we can hope is that our own voices
will remain inside those who loved us
and comfort them for as long as they need to hear us.
by Maria Mazziotti Gillan
This poem was published in Here: a poetry journal from the Department of English at Eastern Connecticut State University and was reprinted online at Verse Daily.
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 paired with some of her paintings is The Girls in the Chartreuse Jackets. Her artist's website is MariaMazziottiGillan.com and her poetry website is MariaGillan.com.