HOW MY FATHER TAUGHT ME MY POWER
He wrapped my ten-year-old hands around
two stiff copper wires each bent into an L. I held
the short ends in my fists, long ends pointing out
They were like liquid in my hands,
I squeezed as I moved
slowly across the land.
I felt them slipping as I tightened
I held them as firmly as I could,
but they moved anyway.
Suddenly they danced together,
made an X.
He smiled at me. We dug,
the water was there, underground–
You found the water!
Grandpa used to be able to find coal!
Very old magic
I felt connected to a long lineage
of people, some I never knew,
who had expectations.
We didn’t have the word for it
in those days. Identity.
MY TEACHER MISS READ
Miss Reed flew to school
on a thin white heron
who waited for her
in the mossy garden
behind the library;
she was ghostwriter for the poems
we learned from her. Poems under
pseudonyms like Donne, Milton,
Shakespeare. She kept my mother’s
name on a slip of silk paper inside
her maiden bra. She spoke it to me
on the first day of College English, You’re
Mafalda’s daughter, handed it to
me like a pearl on an heirloom necklace.
FLIGHT OF THE BABIES
Hoping for a flight from Rome
to home quiet as a mute swan,
morning tea, a newspaper –
but on the bulkhead floor at their
parents’ feet two shrieking babies
nested in a mess of pastel blankets.
No escape, my assigned seat,
written in the cloud months ago,
I turned them happy, imagined them as
fat putti flying around outside the roaring
planein naked joy impervious to ice crystals
pudgy faces reveling in sunlight.
It seemed we wept together all the way
to Philadelphia, me silently, the two of them
cawing until we landed into blessed cessation.
The father turned his wracked face
to me Was it because of the
babies that I wept, I told a half-truth
said it was because of leaving
Italy. I asked if their trip was over. No,
they were going on to Kansas City.
I remembered my own wailing first-born,
colicky as a crow in a chinaberry,
quieting as we drove her around in the car.
She would retrieve me
from the airport in her car
with seat warmers.
In my studio, trees grow
made of paper and ink.
The paper is smooth
on one side rough on the other,
the ink a chemical
burn forced through
See the skulls that
appear among the leaves.
You might want it to be
a bouquet of dried white
magnolias. But, it’s a copse
of ink trees, hiding
history. When it snows
the skulls disappear;
forget about them,
life is beautiful,
Don’t part the leaves
or shake the snow
down, you would
see the Black corpses
hanging there still
waiting for justice.
after Giorgio Morandi Still Life 1952
It’s been said these paintings are Morandi’s family.
But when I look long, it says things are not what they seem,
anything can be re-invented into motherhood,
fragile as painted glass, its potential bursting held firm.
Here are four tall bottles lined up:
two milky mothers dusted
with titanium white
two green glass fathers.
Then a pale celadon sister vase
with swelling hips
to an earthenware brother jug
with jutting handle, sneering lip.
Behind all a tempered black ancestor;
out in front a white china butter bowl–
an infant not yet born.
Once, I thought a window had shattered
and ran from it instead of throwing
myself between my child and flying glass.
MaryAnn L. Miller is the author of Cures for Hysteria (Finishing Line Press 2018) and Locus Mentis (PS Books 2012.) She has been thrice nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her poetry, book reviews or essays have appeared in Mom Egg Review, Wild River Review, Presence Journal, Ovanque Siamo, Stillwater Review, Wordgathering, Kaleidoscope, Passager, Journal of NJ Poets, The International Review of African America Art, the anthologies Illness as a Form of Existence, and Welcome to the Resistance. Also a visual artist, her artist books are in the National Museum of Women in the Arts, and many Special Collections across the country.