Maria Mazziotti Gillan’s brand new poetry collection is When the Stars Were Still Visible. The book is published by Stephen F. Austin University Press and can be ordered now at tamupress.com and via Amazon. This is the title poem from the new book.
When the Stars Were Still Visible
In the photo, I am on the back steps
of the six-family tenement
on 5th Avenue in Paterson where I was born.
I am squinting into the sun,
my nose wrinkled, my eyes closed against the glare.
I am two years old, my hair a curly cap on my head.
It looks blonde, though I know it couldn’t have been,
and wonder if I am remembering my daughter at two,
sitting in the little rocking chair on the front porch
on Oak Street in Kansas City.
Her hair was all blonde ringlets.
Strange how memory is like the fragments of a puzzle:
Remember the green blackout shades
in our apartment in Paterson in 1944.
Remember my father dressed as a devil for a costume party
at the Società Cilentana on Butler Street.
Remember the silver ball Zio Guillermo made
from the foil inside the Camel cigarettes he smoked
that stained his fingers yellow.
So many memories swirl
like bits of color in a kaleidoscope,
and so impossible to explain.
Remember 17th Street with Mrs. Gianelli
who always fainted when she got upset
and the old man who ran the candy store
that was so filthy no one bought anything there,
and the big garage in the Gianelli’s backyard
where we put on plays until something happened;
I don’t know what, something to do with playing doctor
behind our improvised curtains
and then we weren’t allowed to play there anymore.
Remember Zio Guillermo’s garden
with tomatoes and zucchini and corn,
and the vacant lot next door that seemed so huge,
you’d think we had all of New Jersey to play in,
until I see it years later,
covered with asphalt and garages
and I realize that the entire block,
my world until I was eleven, wasn’t that big
and certainly the lot, small, and now so ugly.
Remember Paterson when the stars were still visible in the sky
and I didn’t know 17th Street was in a city.
Remember the sweet smell of marigolds and daisies in the vacant lot,
and our house full of food and laughter,
our family together under the kitchen light,
the company of honorary aunts and uncles.
Outside, our friends gathered to play stickball in the street,
hours to fill with games and books and dreaming.
How lucky I was, how lucky,
Paterson glowing and sparkling
like a silver ball in my hands.
Maria Mazziotti Gillan's new poetry collection is When the Stars Were Still Visible (2021). Other recent publications are the poetry and photography collection, Paterson Light and Shadow and the poetry collections What Blooms in Winter and The Girls in the Chartreuse Jackets which pairs her poems with her paintings. Maria's artist's website is MariaMazziottiGillan.com and her poetry website is MariaGillan.com.