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Bird Calls

The Swampscott Senior Center’s Poet Laureate, Maria Mello

For 10 years, I have taught the creative writing class at the Swampscott Senior Center. During that time, I have come across a wide variety of intelligent, thoughtful, talented, and wise people who have had one thing in common: they loved to write.

Like any creative endeavor, the ability to write is a life-sustaining gift. It clarifies your thoughts, it allows you to share what’s important with others, it heals past injuries, and for those reasons and more, I have always felt grateful that people have been willing to walk into my class and share part of their lives.

One writer, however, stands out—Maria Mello. Her drive to perfect her work is matched by a perfect ear for rhythm, acute perception of the human condition, and a gift for words that conjure pictures.

In her melodic and sonorous voice, she has read her work to acclaim at local libraries, senior centers, and regularly at the Barnes and Nobles Bookstore in Peabody. An elementary school teacher for almost 40 years in Salem, Mello is modest by nature, and has been disinclined to market herself or her work. For years, however, people have asked her when she will put out a book of her writing.

Now that time has come in the form of a poetry collection, Bird Calls. Bird Calls is arranged into sections, each named for a different species of bird, and each corresponding to a theme: longing, discovery, loss, communion and wisdom.

The poems are wide-ranging in subject matter—an uncle who returned from WWII, a rogue storm on Plum Island, her husband’s tattoos, but they are informed by her years spent volunteering at the Audubon in Topsfield, her painting and her music.

In Blue Spruce, her potent mix of nature and spirituality is evident. “I am the elder lady/child of foreigners/sister of a simple brother/holding life tenuously by my blue spruce,” she writes of the tree that has grown outside her window for decades. With its lilting cadences, the poem goes on to depict how she and the tree have interacted over the years. The poem ends with these lovely lines: “I will cherish his final days,/our final days,/knowing, where love has grown,/the earth is sacred.”

And Witch Hazel notices the green-gold flowers that bloom almost into winter, long after leaves leave their branches. “There is a promise in these November woods/the witch hazel pledges./Out of the twisted, yellow flowers/comes hope.”

The Swampscott Senior Center is hosting a tea for Maria this coming Wednesday, November 7, 3-4:30. All are invited to come, listen to Maria read some of her poems and enjoy the festivities. For more information, please call the Senior Center at 781-596-8866.


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