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.