…and find inside a picture,
of myself as a child, sitting
on a small chair, wearing overalls
and shoes that must have been
hand-me-downs because they are
so worn the sole is coming loose.
I am no more than 18 months
old and cannot have been walking
all that long. I am squinting
into the sun, my nose crinkling
with effort the way it crinkles now
when I am trying to see in bright light.
Behind me, the six family tenement
where I was born on 5th Avenue
in Paterson, the rickety stairs rise up
three floors, the porches tilt a bit
as though they might fall off
if someone were to jump on them
too hard. My mother delivered
me herself in this coldwater flat.
The doctor didn’t get to her in time,
and when he did, he, in his pressed
and starched white shirt and expensive
suit and polished shoes, stood at the door
and didn’t enter the room. My mother
cut the cord and washed me off, wrapped
me in a clean blanket. When she
was dying years later, she said,
“The doctor didn’t even come into
the room. He washed his hands, wiped
them on one of the rough linen towels
I brought from Italy, stood in the doorway.
“You’ll be okay,” he said, and left.
“Oh, well,” my mother said, “I think
he was afraid of catching it.”
“Catching what?” I asked.
“Poverty,” she said.
Maria Mazziotti Gillan is a recipient of the 2011 Barnes & Noble Writers for Writers Award from Poets & Writers, and the 2008 American Book Award for her book, All That Lies Between Us (Guernica Editions). She is the Founder /Executive Director of the Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College in Paterson, NJ, and editor of the Paterson Literary Review. She is also Director of the Creative Writing Program and Professor of Poetry at Binghamton University-SUNY. She has published 16 books, and her most recent are The Place I Call Home (NYQ Books, 2012) and Writing Poetry to Save Your Life: How to Find the Courage to Tell Your Stories (MiroLand, Guernica, 2013). She has two books of poetry forthcoming in Fall 2013, entitled, The Silence in an Empty House (NYQ Books) and Ancestor’s Song (Bordighera Press). With her daughter, Jennifer, she is co-editor of four anthologies. Visit her website and blog at www.mariagillan.com.