What Does the Child Inside Me Still Want

by Maria Mazziotti Gillan

How many years have I spent
trying to appease the child who still
cowers inside me —that being
who did not know how to find the words to free it
from the prison of her circumstances,
the poverty knotted like a scarf around her throat,
the dreams of another life that seemed beyond reach
for this immigrant child
who did not speak English when she went to school,
that child who found in poetry, a way to articulate
all she longed for,
how to fill in the outline of herself;
she never could’ve explained it out loud to anyone else.
Even today, so many years after those first poems,
my books piled around me,
there are days within the darkest corners of myself,
that child still cries, though she cannot say why
or what she wants,
that high-pitched Wawa! Wawa! of hunger
whose exact nature she cannot name.
Is that why so many things
I worked so hard to give my children — the private schools,
and slumber parties and summer camps and good clothes
are really for the child
with her hand-me-down clothes and her cotton underpants for Christmas presents,
for all the toys she never got
because she didn’t know how to ask
for what she needed and could not name?

Maria Mazziotti Gillan, American Book Award recipient for All That Lies Between Us (Guernica Editions) and author of twenty-three books, founded the Poetry Center, Paterson, NJ and is editor of the Paterson Literary Review. Appointed a Bartle Professor and Professor Emerita of English and creative writing at Binghamton University-SUNY, recent publications include What Blooms in Winter (NYQ 2016) and the poetry and photography collaboration with Mark Hillringhouse, Paterson Light and Shadow (Serving House Books, 2017).

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