2014 Winter In Variations: Bill Holm Witness Poetry Contest Co-Winner, Joan Mazza
Joan Mazza has worked as a medical microbiologist, psychotherapist, seminar leader, and has been a Pushcart Prize nominee. Author of six books, including Dreaming Your Real Self (Penguin/Putnam), her poetry has appeared in Rattle, Off the Coast, Kestrel, Slipstream, American Journal of Nursing, The MacGuffin, Mezzo Cammin, Buddhist Poetry Review, and The Nation. She ran away from the hurricanes of South Florida to be surprised by the earthquakes and tornadoes of rural central Virginia, where she writes poetry and does fabric and paper art. You can find out more about Joan at www.JoanMazza.com
Pantoum for Winter 1958
The scent of woolen mittens drying
on radiators after December snow.
Icy crusts melting off galoshes.
The jiggle of the pressure cooker’s valve.
Radiators hiss and clank, snow falls,
sugarcoats homes on a Brooklyn street.
Houses are pressure cookers. Jiggly
girls are warned about going bad,
the way to fall, dangers down the street.
Fast girls, right out of high school,
serve as warnings. Badness makes babies.
Are they happy under all that makeup?
Right after high school, you’ll go to college.
The ice is slippery. Wear your mittens.
Make up your mind to be happy, wiser
than those who leave themselves exposed.
You, too, can slip for a cute bad boy
with an icy heart who won’t wear galoshes.
Don’t melt and be the one exposed. Stay close
to the scent of woolen mittens drying.
Winter Solstice 2013
At noon today, I cast the longest shadow
of the year, my body tall and thin as oaks
beside me. Shortest day, pale light thrown
between bare trees, a promise of the sun’s
rebirth, light of the world, days grow longer.
North Pole of Earth titled farthest from the sun,
we celebrate Saturnalia, the battle between
the Oak King and the Holly King, Festivus
by lighting candles, bake sugar cookies shaped
like wreaths and trees and men fat on ginger.
It’s that time of year. Again, the universe takes
away a friend I’ll never see again. Listen.
All her molecules and atoms are recombining.
This must be the winter
of my most content, waking up big
in the belly, pregnant with I know
not what, walking from room to room
in the early morning darkness, savoring
the first pains of labor with the taste
of coffee. My due date and time self-imposed,
I remind myself some births are easy,
some breech. A delayed birth might be
caesarian, and leave a prominent scar,
perhaps the opening for the next birth.
This is the winter of deep hibernation,
of feeding logs to the basement beast
that releases the heat of past summers
from the cellulose of oaks and beech.
Into this cave I crawl, under flannel
and wool, or beneath the disintegrating
patchwork of fur my mother assembled,
and left behind. Look Ma. Watch me swim
in the depths you feared, to surface
with the lyric of another world.
Surviving Another Winter
Thanksgiving season is for counting
people and treasures, enumerating
with gratitude at least one gift a day,
but I’ve moved into survival mode,
afraid of winter’s blast, the treachery
of ice, afraid of freezing, of running out
of anything I might need. Today
I’m sterilizing Mason jars while split peas
and smoked ham hocks simmer and thicken.
I’ve lugged the canner up the stairs, located
rings and lids. Here’s my list of soups
with beans, mixed vegetables, spinach, lentils,
to can in glass, and store at the warmer end
of the garage— not too cold or hot,
prepared to stay home for the winter. Supplies
of fabric, ties, paper, tape, foam adhesive,
a double table, fill what used to be a guestroom,
enough for this winter and the next
ten years. I could risk the mess of watercolors,
acrylics, clay before they all dry out. Back
to baking bread and making art, ready to remove
from the back burner that novel simmering
for decades, cooked through, not burned,
characters connected, ready to count out
their steps for the first winter dance.
You never get what you expect
After a day and night of rain,
I flip the light switch for the back porch
before I part the curtains, expecting
a sheet of ice gleaming, but find
nearly two inches of snow, bright
and pristine, ice lurking and sinister
beneath. Another day to cancel
plans, to stay at home and fire up
the woodstove. Another day stretches
out to read and write, to choose
images for the collage that’s called
to me for months. A day to start
sourdough, make sweet rolls,
to burn, not shred, old tax papers,
early drafts of poems, to watch them
turn to ash. To douse regrets
for wasted time, effort in the wrong
direction, to ignite the energy
of new creation.
Late February’s Fragrance
I wake to a scent so strong, I leap
from bed, try to locate its source.
I forgot the coffee pot on? Someone’s
cooking in my kitchen? Poison gas?
Second time this month.
Slowly, consciousness clears,
sense and senses come together—
a skunk has sprayed near the house,
defense against a raccoon or neighbor’s
cat. My pets are safe inside, but that
distinctive stench filters through
door and window frames, soon more
taste than smell. There’s no escape
but to wait until it dissipates.
Not yet spring, but days are warm,
this winter more than mild. Daffodils
strut along driveways, announce
black and white polecats looking for mates,
in search of passion, without caution.
At dawn and dusk, they dash across roads.
So many dead along the verge. Downwind,
stink lingers for a mile. In two months, kits
will be born for mothers to protect all year.
Plenty more for next year’s losses.
February’s skunk month, country girl.
Get used to mercaptans in the air.