Green Hills Literary Lantern

Aunt Mary Wonders about Guests in the Hall

At the Nursing Home


Today I’d like a piece of coconut cream pie.

Why don’t you see what you can do about it.

You’d think that wouldn’t be too much to ask

of a decent hotel, but this place reminds me

of Aunt Jean’s apartment after Uncle Ray died— 

or those old boarding houses full of bedbugs,

rooms so small tenants sat in the parlor

and talked about clerk jobs or duct tape or poodles

they once had.  You’re too young to remember.

Every Wednesday Jimmy pushes me

through these halls to get my hair fixed.

Old people lined up in wheelchairs

along the walls.  They stare straight ahead

like they’re watching a movie.  I asked Jimmy

what they were watching.  He said,  Space

What’s that mean?  Some new show?

They’re like mannequins for a wheelchair company.   

They sag into sleep, lose their necks. Jaws drop.   

Some never say a word.  Mrs. Bell says, gatatow,

whatever that means, and help over and over all day.

Meschina, she can’t put words together anymore.

Why do they let guests see that?  Che peccato.

They don’t bring them in the restaurant to eat.

I don’t know where they eat.  Maybe they don’t. 

I carry my beaded bag close to me all the same,

while Jimmy pushes me, and cover my legs

with that lacy lap quilt you made me. 

I may feel bad, but I still try to look good.

See how nice Jimmy painted my nails?

What do you think of this lipstick?  Too dark?

Uncle Johnny would tell me the truth.

I wish he were here right now.

He’d find me some coconut cream pie.

We’d have a nice highball together.






After the Winter Storm


The persimmon falls

            between two elms,

a mast cracking,

            a knotty bark casket

of last breath tunnels.  One elm,

            leans on the other,

houses barred owls. 

            Their morning hoos

slip through sleep. 

            Hearts reset, listen

for stir of twigs,

            agitation under leaves.

In snow, vole tracks

            suddenly end.




Maryfrances Cusumano Wagner’s books include Salvatore’s Daughter (BkMk) Red Silk (MidAm) and Light Subtracts Itself. (MidAm).  Red Silk won the Thorpe Menn Book Award for Literary Excellence.  Her poems have appeared widely including New Letters, Midwest Quarterly, Laurel Review, Voices in Italian Americana, Birmingham Poetry Review,  Unsettling America:  An Anthology of Contemporary Multicultural Poetry (Penguin Books), Literature Across Cultures (Pearson/Longman), Bearing Witness (Zephyr) and The Dream Book, An Anthology of Writings by Italian American Women (winner of the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation).  She currently co-edits the I-70 Review and was former co-editor of New Letters Review of Books.  She is past president of The Writers Place in Kansas City.