Breaking the Captives' Fetters
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Breaking the Captives' Fetters, by Laurie Mazzaferro
Breaking the Captives' Fetters Copyright 2000 by Laurie Mazzaferro

Sample Poems
Cooking Lessons
The Last Supper, Kansas, 1963
What You Remember
Mail Order Relics

Poet Bio

Laurie Mazzaferro photo by Elayne Masters-Eddins

Laurie Mazzaferro is a part-time instructor in the English Department at the University of Pittsburgh and the vice-president of the Masters poetry Series in Greensburg, PA—a non-profit organization whose mission is to bring poetry to the community. Before receiving an MFA in Poetry from the University of Pittsburgh in 1999, she lived another life as a registered nurse—but that person has since quietly died. In the tradition of Campbell McGrath, she would like to say she wrestles alligators, which is, perhaps, what she does when she attempts tp push boundaries of form and content trying to uncover the poetry of contemporary culture.

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Cooking Lessons

She doesn't explain
that holding a manicotti
is like caressing a limp penis,
that your grip must be gentle
so you won't bruise tender flesh,
force ricotta filling out,
let it spill down your fingers.

Mother grimaces when you lick
thick juices, tells you to wash your hands
and instructs you on cleanliness and cooking.

She never tells you about hunger—
that one day you'll be unable to bear it
then you will gorge your trmbling mouth
with soft flesh.

Instead she tells you with gray eyes
to be a lady at all cost,
arranged stuffed manicotti on a clean plate,
add slad and garlic bread,
wipe your mouth and hands with a cloth napkin,
watch your guests, satisfied
with the slight curve of their smiles.

Copyright ©2000 Laurie Mazzaferro

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The Last Supper, Kansas, 1963

Now when anyone looks back on that moment
all they hear is a faint rustle

of scalloped place mats
or the scratch of the waitress' pencil.

The kids begged for chocolate malts.
She ordered a cottage cheese plate

with cling peaches drenched in syrup.
It would take days to erase their tart aftertaste.

He had black coffee.
The diner was empty except for this family

ordering dinner on a Friday evening the moment before
they were to break apart

as if families can be separated along perforated edges
smooth and without consequence.

The kids, early school age,
didn't know this yet

as they jumped on their knees to reach the milkshakes.
This is the picture an accidental pedestrian might photograph:

tines of forks, the waitress with a lop-sided name tag,
the check with columns of numbers, tallied, the ones carried over,

the kids sliding thin arms inside matching tweed jackets.
The man paid the cashier,

purchased two rolls of cherry Lifesavers,
one for each child

and walked alone into November.
Any passerby looking into that diner window

could not discern streaks of grease
on that glass pane which stretched infinitely.

This was any American evening.
The man took a final drag of his Camel,

turned to see his two boys still in the booth.
The woman lit a cigarette,

the boys' hands made tiny prints on the glass,
their breath made fog characters

murky shadows following him into the crisp evening
which would stay etched in that window forever.

Copyright ©2000 Laurie Mazzaferro

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What You Remember

about your mother is colorless water
running over hands,
spreading down thin fingers,
off nails clipped to the quick;

the color of erect nipples
as she lowered herself
inside the porcelain tub;

her palms working the blue washcloth
between legs as they rocked
water, the small waves
easing past the rim of bubbles;

and Dial soap massaged into foam;
the slap of legs rubbed together.
You remember each pendulous breast,
her hands sliding soap over flesh.

You don't remember eye contact,
just the fringe of bang
matted to a pale forehead.
And of course the curve of her back

as you sat on the commode
pulling white threads off your bathrobe,
your feet barely touching
cold linoleum.

Copyright ©2000 Laurie Mazzaferro

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Mail Order Relics

Grandma drew navy-blue curtains,
lit three musty candles,
put on a black lace veil
whenever a distressed daughter
or daughter-in-law came crying.
Making the sign of the cross
she opened her top dresser drawer.
An infertile couple?
A wisp of St. Lucille's black locket
secured in a plastic medallion
straight from the Vatican.
Indigestion not relieved by Bromo Seltzer?
A chip from St. Luke's eyetooth
embedded in a velvet shrine
the size of a dime.
An alcoholic husband who beat you?
Four Our Fathers, three Hail Marys,
one Act of Contrition,
a novena to St. Jude in early October,
and a sliver of St. Monica's tongue
caressed in a gold-tone pillbox.
And for my six-week premature daughter
with a hole in her heart?
Two fibers from St. Elizabeth Ann Seton's
undergarment—the one pressed tight
against her undesecrated flesh
as she struggled to feed her children,
raise them Catholic.

Should I lie and say I lost that relic
protected by cheap plastic,
tied to a frayed red ribbon,
or should i admit—
I buried it in the back of my underwear drawer,
where its heat wouldn't burn my hands.

Copyright ©2000 Laurie Mazzaferro

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