Jan. 4, 2008

Donna Laura

by Maria Mazziotti Gillan

Donna Laura, they called my grandmother when they saw her
     sitting in the doorway, sewing delicate
tablecloths and linens, hours of sewing bent over the cloth, an
     occupation for a lady, Donna Laura,

with her big house falling to ruins around her head, Donna
     Laura, whose husband left for Argentina
when she was 24, left her with seven children and no money and
     her life in that southern Italian village

where the old ladies watched her from their windows so that she
     could not have taken a breath without
everyone knowing, Donna Laura who each
day sucked on the
     bitter seed of her husbands failure to send

money and to remember her long auburn hair. Donna Laura who
     relied on the kindness of the priest's
"housekeeper" to provide food for her family. Everyone in the
     village knew

my grandmother's fine needlework could not support seven
     children, but everyone pretended
not to see the housekeeper carrying food to Donna Laura each
     day. Even when she was 90,

She still lived in that mountain house. Was her heart a bitter
     raisin, her anger so deep
it could have cut a road through the mountain? I touch the
     tablecloth she made,

the delicate scrollwork, try to reach back to Donna Laura, feel
     her life shaping itself into laced patterns
and scalloped edges from all those years between her young
     womanhood and old age.

Only this cloth remains, old and perfect still, turning her
     bitterness into art
to teach her granddaughters and great granddaughters to spin
     sorrow into gold.

"Donna Laura" by Maria Mazziotti Gillan, from Italian Women in Black Dresses. © Guernica Editions, Inc., 2003. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of the inventor of calculus, the mathematician and physicist Sir Isaac Newton, born in Woolsthorpe, England (1643). He solved many mysteries of physics involving light, optics, gravity, and motion. Newton always gave credit to his scientific predecessors for his achievements, and he wrote in his journal, "If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.".

It's the birthday of one of the Grimm brothers, Jacob Grimm, (books by this author) born in Hanau, Germany (1785), who, with his younger brother Wilhelm, collected over 200 German folk tales of the early 19th century and published them as Grimm's Fairy Tales (1812), including "Sleeping Beauty," "Little Red Riding Hood," and "Snow White."

It's the birthday of Chinese writer Gao Xingjian, (books by this author) born in Ganzhou, China (1940), who won the Nobel Prize in literature in 2000. He was educated in Chinese schools before the revolution, and was once forced to burn a suitcase full of manuscripts when he was sent to a re-education camp. He started writing again after his release, but his plays and stories still aroused concern from party officials. In 1986, his play The Other Shore was banned. He fled the country and settled in Paris, where he still lives today. In addition to his plays, Gao Xingjian has authored the books Soul Mountain (1999) and One Man's Bible (2002), and he also exhibits his ink paintings around the world.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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