“What Isn’t Said Crushes” by Maria Mazziotti Gillan

Maria Mazziotti Gillan


My son tells me that my grandson, Jackson, 
never talks about himself or his life. 
My mother-in-law used to say
“the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”
My son is closed up. I can’t fill in the space 
between his words and he cannot say. 
He used to tell me everything when he was still a boy, 
but now so much of that is hidden,
so many griefs he cannot name.

When my grandson visited me this summer,
when he helped me buy my cherry red Mazda, 
which is about 25 years too young for me, 
which I love anyway, he was so quiet. 
I kept asking him questions to get him to talk.
“This is like the Inquisition,” he said.
“No,” I told him, “this is how people have a conversation, 
how they get to know other people.” 
But I think it’s only like that for my grandson, 
who keeps so many words crushed
into the black box in his chest.
I asked what kind of girl he wanted,
and he said “one that was optimistic.”
I heard in his answer a truth he had not spoken before. 

I wish I could find the words that would allow my son
to tell me about himself but I know it’s been too long,
this silence, these buried feelings.
I wish he had someone with whom he could share his worries
that he bides in the spaces between words.
I wish he had someone who understood the shadows 
in his eyes. He says, “getting anything 
out of Jackson is impossible,”
and I can hear under his words how frustrated he feels,
as I have felt frustrated when I can’t reach him.
How isolated and distant he is, locked up tight.

from Rattle #56, Summer 2017


Maria Mazziotti Gillan: “I always say I was so shy as a child that I did not speak until I was 24. Writing poetry freed me to speak as I could not in my life. I see my son unable to express his feelings, and I see that my grandson is the same way. I wish that I could give them a magic key like the one that poetry was for me, so that they could share with others who they are and what they want. This poem tries to articulate my love for them and my fear.” (web)

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