Queens Poet Laureate Maria Lisella

In honor of National Poetry Month, and Immigrant Heritage Week, we are very pleased to share some poems from the outgoing Queens Poet Laureate, Maria Lisella.

Maria has served as Queens Poet Laureate—the person charged with promoting a love of poetry and literacy throughout our borough—since 2015.

“I have been honored to join the illustrious list of poets who have been Queens Poets Laureate, especially the late Stephen Stepanchev, who was one of my professors at Queens College, and Hal Sirowitz, who is also a charter member of brevitas, an online poetry circle,” said Maria. “I am also delighted that Queens Public Library has supported this campaign.”

“Queens epitomizes what New York City has always been: the first stop for immigrants in their quest for a new life. Today, it is easier for merchandise and goods to cross borders than people,” she continued. “Poetry is linked to human movement because all of our stories are renewed by the flow of cultures; and Queens has myriad stories to tell, a subject I like to revisit in my work.”

"On behalf of QPL and our customers, I want to thank Maria for sharing her talent and passion for poetry across our library system,” said Queens Public Library President and CEO Dennis M. Walcott.

Applications to become the next Queens Poet Laureate can be submitted beginning April 29.

Congratulations and thank you for your service, Maria!


L’Americana, The American
by Maria Lisella

The women's talk moves to Women's Talk:
"And your clothes, they cannot be from America.
Real Americans wear pink and blue
And sox with sandals like Germans."
New York is not L'America
There, the national color is black,
But not for mourning, I try to say.
I don't look like a real American,
Because I remain a Mediterranean hybrid
With the suspicious heart of a peasant
On both sides of the Atlantic.


Small Victories
by Maria Lisella

Your mother loved words
Sent you to learn “real” Italian
to forget the staccato Calabrese
iddu, idda, ghista, ghistu.
You cocked your ears
to other dialects, studied Dante.

She wanted you
to become “a type-a-writer.”
You rebelled, wanted
to work with your hands.
Sketched haute couture designs
from window displays.
Cut and sewn from remnants
your cousin smuggled
from sweatshops.
Stayed up all night
creating head-to-toe ensembles.

A bonbon of a hat added
inches to your small frame.
Your white polka dot dress
billowed at the sleeves,
a heart-shaped neck dipped toward
a hip-hugging skirt over curves,
delirious with the victories your hands
promised and delivered in the night.


by Maria Lisella

On a one-lane road
I drive through southern Sicily.

Green groves spiked
with golden globes
Christmas ornaments
skinned in summer
soaked in syrup
sold from barrels
at roadside stands.

Preserved lemons,
Morgan lemons
thick-skinned lemons
with salt sprinkled
on the back of my hand
to lick, suck, sip beer.

In the shade of emerald leaves
stick figures
bend, reach, toss lemons
a euro for five kilos
in crates, compressed
to remove oil, pulp, fragrance,

Lemons, end
in a bell jar
on my kitchen counter
in New York City.