I Dream of My Grandmother
and Great Grandmother
I imagine them walking down rocky paths
toward me, strong, Italian women returning
at dusk from fields where they worked all day
on farms built like steps up the sides
5 of steep mountains, graceful women carrying water
in terra cotta jugs on their heads.
What I know of these women, whom I never met,
I know from my mother, a few pictures
of my grandmother, standing at the doorway
10 of the fieldstone house in San Mauro,1
the stories my mother told of them,
but I know them most of all from watching
my mother, her strong arms lifting sheets
out of the cold water in the wringer washer,
15 or from the way she stepped back,
wiping her hands on her homemade flour sack apron,
and admired her jars of canned peaches
that glowed like amber in the dim cellar light.
I see those women in my mother
20 as she worked, grinning and happy,
in her garden that spilled its bounty into her arms.
She gave away baskets of peppers,
lettuce, eggplant, gave away bowls of pasta,
meatballs, zeppoli, loaves of homemade bread.
25 "It was a miracle," she said.
"The more I gave away, the more I had to give."
Now I see her in my daughter,
that same unending energy,
that quick mind,
30 that hand, open and extended to the world.
When I watch my daughter clean the kitchen counter,
watch her turn, laughing,
I remember my mother as she lay dying,
35 how she said of my daughter, "That Jennifer,
she's all the treasure you'll ever need."
I turn now, as my daughter turns,
and see my mother walking toward us
down crooked mountain paths,
40 behind her, all those women
dressed in black.
M. MAZZIOTTI GILLAN, 1993, In Things My Mother Told Me, Guernica, Buffalo, 1999
Answer the following questions
1. When the poet dreams of her grandmother and great grandmother, how does she envision them? What is the
picture of them she has in her mind?
2. Why does she know them most of all from watching her own mother? What does she know about them from
the way her mother behaves? From the things her mother says?
3. Explain the phrase “..that spilled its bounty into her arms.” (line 21)
4. What does the mother mean in saying” the more I gave away, the more I had to give”? (line 26)
5. What is it about her, the poet’s daughter, that makes the poet remember her mother?
6. What is the significance of the last strophe and of the words “all those women dressed in black.”? (lines 40-41)
7. What is the poets’ feeling about her Italian mother and all the Italian women who were her ancestors?
8. Read the poem again and find out the language and images the poet uses to depict rural life in South Italy in the
early part of last century.
• The poet imagines her grandmother and her great grandmother as they walk down rocky paths in their way back from a hard work day on farms, carrying water in terra cotta jugs on their heads.
• She knows them mostly watching her mother because she never met them, so she can only imagine them through her mother daily actions, such as her strong arms lifting sheets or the way she stepped back wiping her hands on her homemade flour sack apron. She actually knows something about them thanks to her mother' stories about them, and she also has a few pictures of her grandmother standing on the doorway of the fieldstone house in San Mauro, the small village where they lived in.
• This phrase is referred to the fact that her mother hardly worked everyday on the fields but she worked happy and her garden gave her a generous picked.
• The mother is talking about her generosity in sharing her picked with the others, and behaving like that she felt better and enriched her soul so she thought she had more to give.
• Her daughter remembered the poet her mother because of her qualities such as ‘unending energy', ‘quick mind', her ‘hand open and extended to the world'.
• In the last strophe the poet is talking about her mother's funeral, and this explains also the women dressed in black, which usually is the colour of mourning.
• She appreciates them, even if she doesn't know them, and hold them in a high esteem.
• She talked about: ‘women returning at dusk from fields', ‘graceful women carrying water in jugs on their heads', ‘farms built like steps up the sides of steep mountains'.
Summarize the content of the poem.
In this poem the author talks about her dreaming of her grandmother and her great grandmother, her Italian ancestors who she never met in life. She can imagine them through her mother' stories and she has a few picture of her grandmother. In any case she can imagine how they were watching her mother behaviour and daily actions. Now she can recognize her mother in her daughter, as they have a very similar kindly disposition. Unfortunately her mother died and she remembers her funeral.