It was not until later
that I knew, recognized the moment
for what it was, my life before it,
a gray landscape, shapeless and misty;
my life after, flowering full and leafy
as the cherry trees that only today
have torn into bloom.
Imagine: my cousin at 19, tall,
slender. She worked in New York City.
For my thirteenth birthday she took me
to New York. We ate at the Russian Tea Room
where I was uncertain about which fork to use,
intimidated by the women in their hats and furs,
by the waiters who watched me
as I struggled with the huge hunk of bread
in the center of the onion soup in its steep bowl.
When we were ready to leave, I tried to give the tip
back to my cousin. I thought she had forgotten it.
She said, "No, it's for the waiter!"
On 57th Street a man in a camel coat bumped into me,
rushed on by. My cousin said, "That was Eddie Fisher,"
but I said, "He's too short. It can't be."
I felt let down that Eddie Fisher,
the star I was in love with that year, was so rude
he never even said "excuse me." Then we went into the theater
sat in the front row. the stage sprang into colored light, and
the glittery costumes, the singing, the magical story,
drew me in, made me feel in that moment,
that I would learn again and again,
the miraculous language, the music of it.
My life, turning away from the constricted world
of the 19th Street tenement, formed a line
almost perpendicular to that old life,
I moved toward it, breathed in this new air,
racing toward a world filled with poems and
music and books that freed me from everything
that could have chained me to the ground.
Copyright © by Maria Mazziotti Gillan