Slow Cooking

by Joan Mazza (May 2024)

Winter Table —John Aldridge, 1939


Slow Cooking

As forecast, an inch of snow has fallen
before dawn, fluffy, sparkling in porch light,
bending daffodils I can’t see from inside
where the house is warm. I peel and slice
potatoes to boil and cool for potato rolls
I’ll bake later. A boneless pork roast browns
in imported olive oil with onions, before
I add pepper, caraway seeds, sauerkraut
to slow-cook in the oven in an All-Clad pot.

I think of Agafia in Siberia in her hut, content
with potatoes and peas she’s grown, pine nuts
she’s collected, roasted. It’s thirty below.
She’s seventy-two, alone with her goats, cats,
and a dog that she must feed, kept sheltered
from wolves and bears. She gets water from
the rushing river. No lights but candles.
She has her prayers, writes letters in the old
Cyrillic alphabet, waits for the geologists
to come back with a little help, some red thread
and buttons, refuses anything packaged in glass
or plastic, or with evil bar codes.

My coffee’s ready, the kitchen utensils washed
and on the drain board. All three pets sleeping
now since waking me at 4 AM. Though the fire’s
gone out in the woodstove, the electric heat
clicks on. The house fills with the scent
of roasting pork and caraway seeds, the yeast
of bread dough rising. The woods are bright
with snow in the day’s first light when I
return to bed, my thoughts on endurance,
survival, the simple pleasures of home
and home-cooked food alone.


Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.
—attributed to St. Jerome

My mother rested by sitting at the window,
embroidering tablecloths for my trousseau,
knitting sweaters for the family in winter.
I embellish cards, paint trees in watercolors
while listening to NPR, podcasts, audiobooks.

When my cousin talks about my grandfather
and her father, she says they had hand trouble.
In the context of cruelty and punishments,
I know she isn’t talking about handwork
as skill, art, craft. My husky grandfather

hit his wife, his children, thought he had
that right. Perhaps he felt it was his duty.
When my mother’s father threatened to cut
his daughter’s heart out, he showed he was
a man. Not an artisan, but another head

of household, a bully exercising dominance.
Don’t call it hand trouble, I say to my cousin.
It’s domestic violence. It’s abuse. You don’t
have to water down the truth
of our history when you talk with me.

Color Wheel

Device for mixing virtual paints, three layers
of cardboard turn on a rivet, names of  mixtures
in cut-out windows. Add yellow to violet
to get autumn’s brown. For burgundy, more black.
Paint chips by Benjamin Moore display a range
of value in lower case with names like crowne hill
yellow and oxford gold, while Valspar names
pinkish-orange hues Carolina Inn Peach
and Woodlawn Marmalade.

Our DNA says we’re all mixed, our mothers’
mothers’ mitochondria passed down through
the Old World. Though I like to say I’m pure
Sicilian, I have a bit of Cocoa Bean brought
back from Morocco. My grandfather stomped
my father’s train set flat, and my father told
that story not as trauma, but with a bit of purple
pride. Did that piece of chromosome pass to me
or pass me by? Do I pass for gentle or carry
that bit of darkness?

My mother’s mother napped and took to bed
to rest and digest. I can see now I take after her,
not caring if you’re tattooed or pierced. Your
shoes don’t have to match your dress. Though
I’m cleaner, neater, not breeding roaches
in my cabinets, I have her ability to disconnect,
to be alone, sit in sunlight, my browning breasts
tanning in the breeze. No near neighbors watch me.
I wear stripes of a different color, mixtures
you won’t find on any wheel of colors.

To be healthy, balanced, live close to trees,
I heard, long after I moved to Virginia to watch
the changing shades of green—lime through fern,
olive to emerald. The flowers bloom all over
this palette, including blue and purple iris. I inhale
a graduated rainbow, wheel through my days
drunk on variety. My genes will be buried here.

Cultivating Intuition

I admit I saw the signs—his flashy monologue
to try to win me, gold jewelry and promises
of a house and pool, fenced yard for my dog,

while he lived in a ratty trailer. I saw the signs
of insincerity, how she lied, shared others’
confidences, told me the opposite of the lines

she gave her students. She’d never do that to me.
My intuition has always sent up a warning
prickle at the back of my neck, caused

a quickened heartbeat and that thrum in my ears.
I overruled the alarm, dismissed my fears
as paranoia, discomfort with proximity,

perhaps frightened by intimacy. Seventeen
when I returned the gold ankle bracelet
for Christmas, I already felt oppressed,

although lacking the proper words to express
what made me feel leashed, possessed, not
loved for who I could become. On the cusp

of this new year, I’m optimistic, hold out hope
I’m not too old to practice the art of trusting
inner knowing. I discern patterns now,

can say their names inside my head when words
don’t match actions, agile in the graceful ways
to retreat with a smile. That’s not my style.

Carefully Taught

We were little girls listening to nuns who glided
before us in their formidable, mysterious habits.
Silent, we took it all in, trusted the truth of their
tales, knew better than to question or fidget.

In the bible story, the Archangel Gabriel tells
Mary she is with child, dismisses her objection
that she’s a virgin. Baffled but obedient, she shows
she’s well trained. I am the Lord’s servant. Surely,

she knew she was going to catch hell, would be
shamed and shunned. Joseph, her betrothed,
would be less than pleased. Would he believe her?
Abandon her? We listened to this miraculous story,

most of us ignorant of basic sex, already aware
our job was to accept, not question any authority.
How magical and exciting for an angel to bring
you such personal news! To tell you how special

you are, your future laid out. No questions!
She was thirteen and poor, a little girl like us.
If we were lucky, God might call us to renounce
all our worldly pleasures to become nuns

to serve Him for all of our lives. We kept our heads
down, got the message, already well trained.


Table of Contents


Joan Mazza has worked as a medical microbiologist and psychotherapist, and taught workshops on understanding dreams and nightmares. She is the author of six books, including Dreaming Your Real Self. Her poetry has appeared in Atlanta Review, The Comstock Review, Prairie Schooner, Italian Americana, Poet Lore, Slant, and The Nation. She lives in rural central Virginia.

Follow NER on Twitter @NERIconoclast


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