“The Cedar Keepsake Box” by Maria Mazziotti Gillan

Maria Mazziotti Gillan


What happened to the cedar keepsake box my mother bought
me the only time I ever went to the Jersey shore when I was
growing up? After she told me that I couldn’t have it, too
expensive, my mother bought it for me anyway.

Here, she said, turned away, my mother who loved all of us
with a devotion so complete we could have been gods or
saints to her. Though she never said it, each act of love a
demonstration. I loved that box, loved the aroma of cedar,

rising out of it when I opened it. I loved the feel of the
burnished wood under my fingers, the box that would keep my
tender secrets for years. So much in our lives is like that, we
love and love and love an object and then one day

it disappears, and we don’t notice as though there were a
canyon in the middle of the world where all those lost loves
go. It is like that with people too. So now, when I hear your
voice on the phone, that trembling, rasping it has become

or when you tell me you fell four times today and describe
each place where you fell and why or when you fumble for
words to explain some simple fact, I know you, too, are going
to vanish from my life, the feel of your skin under my

hand, the way your shaking hands reach for me, the same way
I still remember the sweet smell of cedar lifting into the air,
the smooth feel of that wooden box under my hand.

from Rattle #31, Summer 2009


Maria Mazziotti Gillan: “Poetry is my passion—writing it and sharing it with others through my own books, setting up readings for other poets, editing a magazine and anthologies, and organizing prizes. My mother always said, ‘The more I gave away, the more I had to give,’ referring to food, and I have tried to do the same thing with poetry.” (web)

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