MaryAnn L. Miller


Divinazione dell’acqua:

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

I walked.

They were like liquid in my hands,

I squeezed as I moved

slowly across the land.

I felt them slipping as I tightened

my grasp.

I held them as firmly as I could,

but they moved anyway.

Suddenly they danced together,

they crossed,

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.


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.


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.

                    STUDIO TREES

                        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

                        the screen.

                        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,

                        peaceful again.

                        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

insinuated next

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.