Talismans/Talismani – Poems/Poesie

by Maria Mazziotti Gillan

Translation and preface by Elizabetta Marino.
Florence: Il quadrifoglio-Ibiskos, © 2006.
Pgs. 104. Isbn 88-7841-242-2.

Talismans are objects marked with magical signs that confer protection. I could not think of a better title for this wonderful bilingual English/Italian collection of 27 poems. Marino’s insightful preface alerts the reader to, “…the constant presence of circular images tightly connected with female figures.” It is a circularity that encompasses growing up as the child of immigrants, becoming a mother and wife, and ultimately coming to terms with one’s own destiny.

The poems’ magical protection is in images evoked by Mazziotti Gillian’s lyrics. When remembering her mother in “Heritage” she writes, “This the way it is with me -\you are nested inside me,\ your voice a whisper that that grows clearer\with each day.” The hidden strength of a whisper reappears in “Black Dresses” a poem about the old ladies of her youth,” and the women’s whispers and laughter became\ the music of a time when the world was small\ enough to carry in their hands.”

The need for talismans is dictated by the hurt inflicted on immigrants as in “Arturo” and in “Columbus and the Road to Glory” with their painful and unfortunately all too well known ethnic slurs. In Marino’s translation these derogatory words are, correctly, not translated in order to emphasize their foreignness to human kindness. To Mazziotti Gillan’s credit, while in many of her poems she centers her remembrances on Italian immigrants, in “Here I Am” she embraces all those who have sought refuge on our shores, “all those black/brown/red/yellow\ olive-skinned people\soon will raise their voices\ and sing this new anthem:\ Here I am”.

This review would not be complete without a few words of praise for Elisabetta Marino’s translation; it faithfully mirrors the original text where necessary and yet has the strength to part from it when needed. The Italian publisher of this collection should also be commended for this gift to both sides of the Atlantic.

The Cup
My fingers, raised and rounded, are a cup
holding a universe waiting to be filled
With stars, moon, dark November sky.
Outside the window, the night
Is a black cape sprinkled with diamonds,
Inside this white room,
I write in yellow paper,
holding delicately in my mind,
my life, fragile as a cup,
so fine that my fingers show through
as pale blue shadows.

Maria Enrico is Assistant Professor of Italian at Borough of Manhattan Community College/CUNY and published translator.