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The Return
Mary Jo Balistreri


for the Grammas

We lean forward to fit into the camera's lens, all seven
of us squashed together. Our weekly gathering
celebrates returns: of spring, of the snowbirds.
Of my own return from serious illness.
But standing in that spring field with my friends, the scarlet voice
of poppies screamed the sun's too strong, and as I ran
my fingers gingerly over buttercups, I thought, they are not
as I remember. A nugget of fear lodged in my chest.
Months later as I look at my smiling face in the photo,
I recall how awkward that first get-together was for us all.
No one said anything except how good to have me back,
how good I looked. We were all adjusting to my croaky voice,
loss of hearing, of mobility. While some returned
from vacation, I returned from the dead.
I feel again the aloneness of that first excursion, how I was
a stranger to myself as well as to them; the tears shed
that I'd never be the same. It was true. I look no different
but carry, like Persephone, indelible marks
from the underworld—caution and distance,
less certainty. Less energy.
But as I write this poem, I thank the Grammas:
Their cards that fill a book. The patchwork quilt
made for my homecoming from the ICU, each square,
an individual hand imprinted within. A wall hanging
in my bedroom now, I look to those hands, 
wake to them yet, each morning.
From Gathering the Harvest (Bellowing Ark Press, 2012).
This poem first appeared in Passager.
Used here with the author's permission.




Mary Jo Balistreri was a concert pianist for most of her life, but in 2005 she began writing poetry after the death of her seven-year-old grandson. Poetry gradually helped her transform her grief into something resembling acceptance. Mary Jo’s award-winning work is widely published and she is the author of four collections: Still, gathering the harvest, Best Brothers, and Joy in the Morning. In 2014, Mary Jo began writing haiku and haibun and, since then, has turned almost entirely to Japanese forms. Mary Jo lives in Wisconsin; learn more about her at






Post New Comment:
Patt Clark:
The artistry of your words aids in the understanding of the experience...shows the importance of friends who stand by you--no matter what!
Posted 10/17/2012 04:25 PM
Wilda Morris:
Beautiful and poignant, Jo.
Posted 10/15/2012 03:20 PM
This is a beautiful testimony of the miracle you have experienced and of all the support you have received from those who love you. You are a very talented lady, Jo. And a true inspiration.
Posted 10/15/2012 08:49 AM
Beautiful words, Jo! Congratulations on your new book--love the cover!
Posted 10/15/2012 07:26 AM
You have been redeemed and in that redemption have taken us with you ~ thank you for sharing your courageous journey, awe-inspiring as is this lovely poem... Judy
Posted 10/14/2012 11:45 AM
One to another, Persephone sends her greetings. Thank you for the poem!
Posted 10/14/2012 03:33 AM
Heart felt poem. Strange that I embarked on an avocation of art after my younger sister died. Just sharing.
Posted 10/13/2012 10:03 PM
Stunningly beautiful. Could we please have this poem for the March issue of Quill and Parchement? Is the book ready for a New Book Release article? And there are still more reasons why I love your poetry.
Posted 10/13/2012 05:52 PM
Donna Pflueger:
Jo, your words, ...they are not as I remember... have created a universe of emotions for me in your beautiful poem. As I have shared with you before, I cherish your extraordinary abilities and the way in which your soul takes in the world. Donna
Posted 10/13/2012 10:24 AM
Marilyn L Taylor:
Lovely, Jo. I underscore what everyone has said below.
Posted 10/13/2012 09:57 AM
A wonderful poem, Mary Jo. We gain so much strength from caring friends. Thank you for sharing these words. Their energy connects all of us. Marilyn Zelke-Windau
Posted 10/13/2012 09:23 AM
A lovely poem acknowledging the saving power of friendship,
Posted 10/13/2012 09:09 AM
Loved the imagery and the spirit just lovely
Posted 10/13/2012 07:05 AM
Kay Sanders:
Beautiful, Mary Jo--the poem, the picture, you.
Posted 10/13/2012 06:30 AM
I loved this poem and it was terrific to see the image of quilt with it!
Posted 10/13/2012 06:21 AM

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