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Maria Lisella

Born in South Jamaica, Queens, Maria Lisella has lived in Astoria, New York for forty years. A poet and travel writer, she is a graduate of Queensborough Community College and Queens College, holds a Master’s degree from NYU-Polytechnic Institute, and attended the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

Lisella is the author of three books of poetry, including Thieves in the Family (NYQ Books, 2014) and the chapbooks Amore on Hope Street (Finishing Line Press, 2009), and Two Naked Feet (Poets Wear Prada, 2009). She curates the 29-year old Italian American Writers Association literary series and is a charter member of the online poetry circle, Brevitas. An award-winning travel writer, her work appears in USA TODAY, The Jerusalem Post, Travel Market Report and the bilingual La Voce di New York.

Cited for Honorable Mention for the Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award, Lisella has taught English as a second language and composition at Touro College and has taught Tourism and Hospitality at the Borough of Manhattan Community College. She is the outgoing poet laureate of Queens, New York.

Read about Maria Lisella’s 2020 Poets Laureate Fellowship project.

By This Poet



as the winter sky cools on its way to night.
You ask me “… before you go, can you …” And I do.
Unwilling to go, needing to go, I organize items
on the table, as if anointing them for you, talk you
through the maze of meds, the need to eat something,
anything all day. I swirl and spin the hospital furniture --
the walker, the tables into place. Your prayer books
next to the phone, small laboratory cups of mouth
washes for who remembers why there are three of them.
I make my way to Second Avenue, chase the subway car,
look up to see a woman giggling. I must have missed
a transient, funny incident on the platform. She wants
me to join her, I do, smile back, blink and recall the last thing
you asked. “Would you take a hot cloth, wash my face …”
as my grandmother did on cold mornings knowing
each child would tiptoe on chilled wooden planked floors
as my mother did for me to gentle me into mornings.
I reach my stop and think quite possibly, I forgot
to warm your face as night falls in a place where
the weather never changes, where you live just for me.

The Same

I want to tell 
the little Chinese women 
with the loud voices 
to sit beside each other 
so they don’t shout 
across the car,
over my head,
shattering my space,
interrupting my reading.
I offer my seat.
The lady with the 
short-cropped perm
red as a rooster’s comb
in a Chinese market 
gives me a toothy grin
an essence of onions, garlic
shakes her head 
from side to side like a 
tai chi exercise, no, no, no
as if to say, “I may shop in Costco
wear jeans, a North Face down jacket 
but you’ll never
make me a Westerner,
won’t drop 
my Chinese voice 
a single decibel
to suit you and your
Anglo-silence on subway cars
as if they were chapels or
worse, private property.”
I hear my grandmother’s
staccato Calabrese vowels
clang against brick walls
in an alleyway in Queens
with the same defiance, 
the same pride 
the same sorrow to be in America.   

Our Date

My stepson spent
the afternoon in detention
for lying to a nun.

I told them my name means
pheasants in Italian, 
but no one believed me.

Half white, half Puerto Rican,
Italian last name, nappy hair,
said otherwise. 

At the perfect age of 10, 
my stepson and I
had a date one afternoon.

Determined to teach him to fly,
forget nuns, divorced parents,
over-protective mother,

or, just ride a bike.
A two-wheeler, banana seat,
shiny, chrome, bells, streamers.

He’d run alongside it
throw one leg far and wide
in time to find the peddle

on the other side.
I clutched the back of the seat
sent him off as far as I could.

Like my father did for me,
knowing spills and harm
would follow.

Years later,
a knot in  my heart, 
his dusty, tear-smeared face

lips quivering, telling me
of a quick ride to an Italian
neighborhood in Pelham Bay
where he was chased down

by taunts of 
You don’t belong here.
I tried to tell them my name
but no one listened.

I think of all I don’t know
about courage – how to build it,
pass it on, when to fight, to flee,

and when to leave your bike
behind, save your life,
find your way home.