After dinner when I was a child we’d walk from 17th Street
up the hill to visit my aunt and uncle, Zia Rosa and Zio Gianni.
Zio built a huge grape arbor at least thirty feet long
and 20 feet wide down the center and lined up tables
covered in oilcloth. He built a bench
that ran all the way around the edges, where all
the children would sit. Zia Rosa would give us
cream sodas and cookies and the women would sit
at one end of the tables gossiping in whispers
and laughing. The men would sit on the other end
playing cards, talking politics, and drinking wine
in short glasses, peaches sliced into each glass.
My father and the other men all made their own wine,
and at the same time each year, they made a trip
to the farmers’ market to buy boxes of grapes. I remember
my father lugging those boxes into the basement.
He’d wash the grapes, feed them into the wine press,
and then transfer them to the wooden barrel
where they’d ferment, the aroma rising
through the floors into our cold water flat.
If I close my eyes, I can still smell them.
My father poured the wine into green gallon jugs
to be set out on our dinner table, one bottle at a time.
Then, he would pour the wine into a short water glass
and he and my mother would have one glass with each meal.
We never got to drink this wine, except sometimes
at my uncle’s house. My uncle made the best wine
of all the men, and he also made whiskey and liquor so strong
a tiny glass could send even larger men reeling,
and he’d encourage them to drink more than one
until they’d stagger home.
Maria Mazziotti Gillan is a recipient of the 2014 George Garrett Award for Outstanding Community Service in Literature from AWP (Association of Writers & Writing Programs), the 2011 Barnes & Noble Writers for Writers Award from Poets & Writers and the 2008 American Book Award for her book, All That Lies Between Us (Guernica Editions). She is the Founder /Executive Director of the Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College in Paterson, NJ, and editor of the Paterson Literary Review. She is also Director of the Creative Writing Program and Professor of Poetry at Binghamton University-SUNY. Maria has published twenty books. Her most recent are the poetry and art collection, The Girls in the Chartreuse Jackets (Redux Consortium). Ancestors’ Song (Bordighera Press), Writing Poetry to Save Your Life: How to Find the Courage to Tell Your Stories (MiroLand, Guernica) and the bi-lingual poetry collection, In a Place of Flowers & Light (poems in English & Italian with a preface by Elisabetta Marino, edited by Osvaldo Marrocco (San Mauro and Mia Mama).