Endowed in perpetuity by the Glenna Luschei Fund for Excellence

I Am Sitting at the Table

Maria Mazziotti Gillan
From Prairie Schooner, Vol. 84, No. 1 (Spring 2010)

I am sitting at the table
in my friend's dining room
her children age five and two
are there also, the little one
with her curly electric blonde hair
that reminds me of my daughter's hair
before my sister decided it was too
messy and had it cut short.
When I came home from teaching
there was my furious five-year-old,
her curls gone.
It was years before she forgave
my sister and years before
I could forgive myself
for not being there to stop her.
Funny how the past
and the present are mixed up
in our minds like colored glass
in a kaleidoscope. Anyway,
there I am in Vestal, NY,
my children grown up
even my grandchildren
much older than these
children at this table
and I look at the youngest child
with her tough stance
and her big smile and her wild hair and then at the oldest child
with her light blonde hair
that falls in a straight line
to her shoulders
and her eyes wide
and blue as pansies
and I see in her, the delicate
precision with which she moves
the careful way she lifts her fork
to her mouth,
her serious concern that every action
be completed in exactly the right
way, my own daughter, grown now
and with that veneer of sad cynicism,
that loss of hope, so evident
since her divorce,
the sharp wit she uses
to hide her thin skin,
the place inside herself
that even six years have not been able
to heal. I think of my sixteen-year-old
granddaughter and see in her
those same qualities—all three of them,
the little girl sitting near me
eating her ice cream cake
with such sweet concentration
and my daughter who tries to
save herself by that same
precision in everything she does
writing an article, or preparing to teach
her classes, or setting up
her new condo. "I don't want
to talk about my life," she says.
"I never want to talk about it.
You," she says, "are too optimistic.
You always think everything
will work out, and it never does."
Across the telephone wires
from Boston, her words make my
eyes fill with tears who would
do anything to make her happy.
My student says, "You can't be
afraid. What are we supposed to feel
if you're afraid?"
My granddaughter has grown into
a long-legged girl with her thick
blonde hair and her lean body
and her quick intelligence,
but inside she's as frail
as the wings of a moth, as easily hurt,
and all those young women, my images
of them swirl in my mind, and no matter
how much I love them
the hardest thing of all
is knowing I cannot predict
what will hurt them, what their lives will be
nor do I have the power to keep them
from everything in the world
that wants only to do them harm.