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Gail Mazur ’59

Alumnae Poet

Gail Mazur

In her landmark collection Land’s End: New and Selected Poems (The University of Chicago Press, 2020), activist, poet, and Smith College alum Gail Mazur uses descriptive-meditative narratives to weave the past and present together and interrogate loss and art. The National Book Award Citation for Mazur’s 2001 collection They Can’t Take That Away from Me praised her work as “Colloquial as well as eloquent, pitch-perfect no matter how delicate her material... She gives us the exact ‘feel’ of contemporary life in our disquieting republic, the uncanny way in which love, hope, and endurance are shot through by contingency, dread, and estrangement.” Mazur has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Bunting Institute of Radcliffe College, and Radcliffe Institute. She currently teaches at Boston University’s MFA Program in Creative Writing and at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown where she has served for many years on the Writing Committee.


Select Poems

As if I had no language

and would begin again

in the linguistics

of infancy,

but amnesiac

therefore with nothing

to say –

(unlike the woman in rehab

who could walk

and walked in the linoleum

at all hours, shouting

to no one, I KNOW


-all the words

she knew)

I walked,

past a yard

overgrown, scraggly

after the first frost,

a rose-the bitterest orange-

still blooming, piercing

the morning

(My work had stopped,

I thought



or imperfection

utterly itself,

pale petals tinged

fiery (provident neighbor,

astute to nurture

that gift)

(I didn’t take it)

Not to be thinking

Is this enough, this

moment, the chilled

unpromising air,

not to be wanting more

than I’d been given,

but remembering

last October when

I carried a glass vase,

its rose

lush, creamy

across my living room

for your appreciations,

how you rose from

the rush-seated chair

to meet it saying,

“Oh no, Gail,

the rose doesn’t come

to you-

you go

to the rose.”

From ZEPPO’S FIRST WIFE (University of Chicago Press, 2005)

What would be strange

in someone else’s bed, familiar

here as the body’s jolt

at the edge of sleep-body

persistent, solitary, precarious.

I watch his right hand float

in our bedroom’s midnight,

inscribe forms by instinct on the air,

arterial, calligraphic

figures I’m too literal to follow

I close my book quietly,

leave a woman detective to tough

her own way out of trouble-

local color of Chicago, Sears Tower,

bloodied knuckles, corpses.

I turn to him-

who else would I turn to?-

but I can only watch

for a few minutes at a time

the mysterious art of his sleep.

If I touch his hand, he won’t know it,

and it’s always comforted me

to feel the vibration

the singular humming in him,

nocturnal humming…

My mystery falls to the floor,

nothing I’ll think about tomorrow –

I’m listening for the breath

after this breath,

for each small exhalation

Is this the way it has to be-

one of us always vigilant,

watching over the unconscious

other, the quick elusory

tracings on the night’s space?

That night two years ago

in the hospital, tubes

in his pale right hand,

in his thigh, I asked myself,

does he love me?

and if he does,

how could he let that steely man

in green scrubs snake his way

nearer to his heart

Than I’ve ever gone?

From ZEPPO’S FIRST WIFE (University of Chicago Press, 2005)

Sometimes I have delusions

of total recall, tyrannical, crazy.

Crazy is what I thought years ago,

“You’re crazy!”

when I built a home

over my father’s bulldozed house.

Nothing’s ever lost to me,

certainly not the arsonned pieces of that place

that erupt like clocks

in the rockiness of my yard.

Yesterday, yellowed linoleum

bloomed in the herb garden –

his much-scrubbed kitchen tile;

and this morning, by the door,

I found a porcelain shard,

part of the upstairs bath.

Commonplace relics,

they hide themselves in a common grave,

then, break out on my path;

they bide their time, they just won’t quit,

not while I live –

burnt scraps, artifacts, detritus-

they’re memory’s arsenal

stockpiled under sumac and ferns…

A bit of blue China to make me shiver,

its graceful willow

drooping over two fishermen

pacing a broken blue bridge,

once the perfect world

I pushed and poked mashed turnips around-

Oh, unfathomable figures

so displaced below me,

so fixed in their pitless purposes!

From ZEPPO’S FIRST WIFE (University of Chicago Press, 2005)

August afternoon.


Rag paper, Winsor Newton charcoal,

blackened kneaded eraser beside you in the grass.


Three bare oak trees. You loved what you called

the spikiness of forms, agreed with Rodin


that nothing in nature is ugly.


Monumental, burnt, those trees expressive for you,

as close as if your charcoal had been made of them.


You loved the susurrus of brush on canvas,

the sh shh that charcoal made on paper,


you even liked ekphrastic poems (I hated them).

You’d love me writing this.


That day I asked − was it the only time I asked? −

what you’d been thinking while you drew,


and you looked at me blankly

(you’d already explained so much to me,


that day I wanted to know more,

to be inside you, inside your working mind);


What? what?


How you answered,

tree tree tree

(from The Map of Every Lilac Leaf: Poets Respond to the Smith College Museum of Art, 2020) 

About Gail

Click here for Mazur’s Website
Poetry Center Reading Dates: December 2021