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by Joan Mazza

For the obligatory visit, we take the subway from
Brooklyn to the Bronx because my mother doesn’t drive.
I memorize each station’s black and white name.

In the kitchen of the upstairs apartment that smells
like attic trunks, my Aunt Sara sits slumped against
the wall, her torso tied to the chair with clothesline.

My grandmother lumbers toward me from the stove,
with wet hands pushes me toward lumps of dough on plates.
I’m underweight, never hungry, automatically say,
“ No thank you,” and back away. “Why is she tied up?”

“So she won’t fall. She falls now.” My mother seems
accepting of her sister’s deterioration into Parkinson’s.
She groans at what’s under the table: five pound bags
of flour, all opened, in a line against the baseboard.
“ Roaches! Roaches!” My mother swats a dark brown streaker.

She’s swearing now in broken Sicilian. I recognize my father’s
curses. “What? What?” I ask. Clutching one bag to her chest,
she continues shouting at her mother, not allowing grandma’s hands
to touch. My grandmother buys bargains: torn boxes, bags
of sugar, flour, dented cans. Last time it was cat food, not tuna.

Cementa!” my mother screams. “Cementa!
I can read. The label says PLASTER OF PARIS.
My father only taught my grandmother to sign her name.

[published in The Potomac Review, Fall 2003]

At My Sister’s Mirror
by Joan Mazza

Big sister, tall and black-haired
narrow hips pressed to the cracked sink,
leans into her reflection, blinking
between applications of the tiny brush

Sitting on the toilet seat, I watch
her perfection unfold
memorize pursed lips
awestruck at her power

The lanky boys she kissed and
turned away, nylon stockings
dangle earrings, blood-red nails tapping
white piano keys, star soprano

Waiting for my time and turn
I gape and genuflect
settling for honor student

When in the same year
two decades later, we both
divorce, my mother says

[Published in Voices of Italian Americana, Fall 2003]

Mother Answer Me Now
by Joan Mazza

I thought my mother’s advice
antiquated, angry, childish
when she was living.

She, who stayed married to my father
as they batted contempt across the dinner table,
who said men would only want to pee in me,
what did she know of a loving partner?

When women’s rights meant a new washing machine,
smoking, being allowed to work or go to college,
what did she know of men who give massages,
have vasectomies, applaud their wives’ promotions?

Now, a decade since her death,
I sit alone outside Le Café de Paris,
wearing her earrings and bracelet,
long nails red, slender and toned from yoga,
drinking decaf, no cream
wishing she would tell me for once
how good I look, how well I’ve done.

Today I want to ask her counsel
to find a suitable life mate
I could trust and love,
I would hate her answer.

[Published in Voices of Italian Americana, Fall 2003]


by Joan Mazza

Like all the others
I began small, shriveled, flat.

Though different in my own way,
being chosen is more like winning
the lottery than demonstrating a
skill or talent.

High praise for this one.
With helium, they pumped me up.
Tethered, I crowded out the others
high and singular.

They blew and puffed,
increased the pressure,
wearing me so thin
I thought I’d pop.

I wrenched loose or
would have burst.

As I broke away
I saw the pins
in their hands.

[Published in Muse of Fire, issue #88, Oct. 1998, and in Pegasus, Fall 04]

Bonsai Marriage

by Joan Mazza

He said we’d have six children,
a garden, goats, old farm house.

First pruning came before I said yes.
He told me to quit the college chorus,
feared I’d meet another boy.

What silent grafting came when I was unaware?
He taught me to make an omelet, iron his shirts.
Who else would want me after I’d been had?

Don’t look too sexy.
Don’t go to graduate school.
Don’t go out without me.
Don’t go out alone.
Don’t go out.
Don’t go.

My leaves grew tiny,
branches amputated.
He shaved my bark,
tied down
my outstretched limbs.

Out of view, I sent a root
over the edge of his
confining pot,
grew beyond his garden,
snaked into the wilderness.

[Published in Confluence, Volume 15, September, 2004]

by Joan Mazza

Bears crawl into their dens to sleep,
slowing down their pulse and breathing,

gestating bearishly, relying only
on inner reserves through coldest
months, rather than foraging in snow.

The earth warms.

Knowing the right time to emerge
for nature’s largess, bears awaken,
fatten on berries, shoots, grasses.

Coldness comes again.
Bears crawl into their dens to sleep.

[Published in Red Owl Magazine, Fall 2004]

Joan Mazza, M.S. LMHC