Copyright 1995 Guernica Press, Toronto/New York
excerpts from

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Song for Caroline

Caroline,Caroline Paige,
I treasure your curious stare,
your sturdy pushing legs.
I watch your mother's face
when she holds you,
lit from within as I was
when I held your father,
that Johnson's baby powder scent,
the warm smooth feel of your skin
against my mouth,
and for one moment,
sliding back in time,
I am young again
and you are my child.

In 1965 in that Rutgers apartment,
I sat through the long, hacking night,
holding your father
and rocking into dawn light.
How warm he was in my arms,
how sure I was I would keep him forever.
Now I hold you,
the child I held so long ago
Little flower,
little chirping bird,
you watch the world
through big, solemn eyes
drinking everything in,
storing it up
the seriousness of it all,
and you, your sudden smile
when you look at your father
as though all the glory
in the universe
were gathered in his hands

Caroline, Caroline Paige,
Granddaughter, today when I hold you,
you burrow into the curve
of my neck, and I wonder
when you are older will you come to me
with your secrets
and your sorrows?
Will we become friends
a little while
before you rush into your life?
Already you are trying to walk,
your legs, too delicate to hold
your slender body,
want to walk anyway,
your feet moving though air,
practicing the motion
that will take you away.

We gather in a circle around you,
as if you were a fire and we, needing
your warmth against the chill.
Blue as pansies, as violets, your eyes
fix on each of us in turn,
your father, mother, grandfather and me.
We are awed by you, your copper hair,
your impish mouth, your legs,
so strong and wirey, and you,
and all of us, so pleased with you.
We smile at you,
this blessing, this magic charm,
this energy which crackles
in the room, so new, so new.

Copyright 1995 Maria Mazziotti Gillan
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Requiem for a Four-Year-Old

Mark Warner was four years old
when he died in a Paterson slum.These days
even the people in his old neighborhood
can't remember his name.
"All I know is a little boy died here
. Nobody don't talk about it."
The words are spoken casually by a tall, slender woman
with orange-red nail polish. She gives her name
only as "Tee." No last name. On this block
of Broadway in Paterson, where used crack vials
are scattered at the curb and winos
hang out all day outside a liquor store,
people don't give their full names,
Tee is nineteen. She lives in apartment 6,
the same apartment where Mark Warner lived and died.
Standing on the rickety front stoop under a broken window,
Tee says: "Everybody here now wasn't here then."

"Sometimes I just give him a couple of slaps,"
Michael Thomas, Mark's stepfather says.
"But this time I hit him a while."
In the color pictures of Mark Warner,
Mark's lower lip is split
and large purple bruises distort most of his face
and body.
Four round scars, old cigarette burns, mark his buttocks.
The coroner believes the welts on his back
are from a whipping with a belt or a wire loop.
Assistant Passaic County Prosecutor,
Marilyn Zdobinski, shakes her head in disgust.
"These are the crimes
that people do not think happen," Zdobinski says.
"But people beat kids every day.

Last week, Mark's twenty-one-year-old mother,
Alvira Warner Thomas, stood silently
in an empty Passaic County Courtroom;
She was sentenced to four years probation
and ordered to seek counseling. Michael Thomas was sentenced to ten years
without parole. "He is very depressed,"
his lawyer says.

From an article in The HeraldNews
Paterson, NJ February 13, 1988

Copyright 1995 Maria Mazziotti Gillan
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Waiting for the results of a pregnancy test

At 41, 1 am uncertain of more things
than I could have imagined twenty years ago.

Your existence or non-existence
hovers over me today. The voices
of the world my friends the liberated
women who are close to me cry abort abort abort in unison.

Yet the voice inside me shouts

shows my selfishness in its mirror
my soul's dark intent.

This neut, this merging of tiny cells
makes an explosion like comets colliding in my ordered universe.

I want to say: I'm too old, too tired,
too caught up in trying wings so long unused,
but that voice will not be silent. It beats
in my bones, cries to be allowed to live.

I did not know the child's voice would haunt
my days and nights with its primitive insistence.

Little life, floating in your boat of cells,
I will carry you under my heart though the arithmetic is against us both.

Today I bypass the baby departments,
the thousand reminders that come to me now. the young women wheeling strollers through
Bradlees, the girl in the maternity shirt

which proclaims: "I'm not lonely anymore."
1 want to scream, we are all born lonely,
and the child beating under our hearts
does not change that. I want to lie down
on the ugly pebbled floor of Bradlees and kick
my feet and pound my fists and make this intruder
in my life vanish.

As I stand at the checkout line, I see our years
unroll: the bottles
midnight feedings
tinker toys
baseball games
PTA meetings
are boulders in my path, a mountain
of boulders I will have to climb
for you. I walk into the Spring sunlight
while my life snaps closed around me and my fear.

My friends are all my age, their children in
high school
as mine are. I will be alone with you.
You will be born with a scowl on your face,
your hands shaking, having taken from the marrow
of my bones my own quaking.

We will rock together in this leaky boat and you
will grow into my belly like a tree.
I will love you,
I know, it is only in these first
moments, while I alter the picture of my life
I had painted with such sure strokes, only in these
moments that I wish wish you were not there.

Copyright 1981 Maria Mazziotti Gillan
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Women Speak of God

The women speak of God
as though they know him well.
He is a tame creature
they invite to tea.
He sits at their table,
his finger crooked in just the proper way.
They congratulate themselves on their catch, this guest
they are certain is theirs.

Watching them, a gray
mouse of doubt grows
as it feeds on me.

Yet I reach toward you, even
through this darkness, reach
knowing you are a cataclysm,
an apocalypse
which no small,
boundaried world,
clipped and safe,
could possibly contain.

Copyright 1983 Maria Mazziotti Gillan
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Eulogy to Blasberg's Farm

We used to reach it, take our
bikes up Lynack Road, pause
at gravestones in the bramblebushed cemetery, stones old and
fallen, wild flowers growing over
them in tangled clumps.

We sat cross-legged on the grass,
drinking our Cokes, preparing
for a journey whose distances
we could not even begin to measure.

Up Lynack Road into the back gate
of Blasberg's, we rode the crooked
rows, drowning in scented
apples, deep and scarlet
against a lilac-colored sky.

We careened down
the road, spring flying behind us like a cloak, unaware that one
day we would mourn the tangled underbrush, the lost curve
of apple trees, the blue
untarnished sky.

Copyright 1983 Maria Mazziotti Gillan
All poems cannot be reproduced without permission of the author.
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