Four Poems by Joan Mazza


That guilty feeling when you hear that a typhoon
and flood has killed hundreds, left thousands
homeless, and you realize you’re more concerned
about your book stacks collecting throughout
the house, becoming obstacles to cleaning.
You know people are running for their lives,
caught in crossfire, malnourished and cold,
but your petty concerns remain in foreground,
your small donations toward aid no more
than Band-Aids over shotgun wounds. Your guilt
simmers below your surface calm, turns you
irritable and angry without a focus or plan, yet
without the force to propel you take action or effect
a shift away from your part in climate change
or the dearth of science education. So you sit
in this discomfort, frozen, focused on the trivial,
pondering how to proceed with your library’s
reorganization, where to place another bookcase.

*From The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows by John Koenig



The effort you put forth as you scramble
mentally to pinpoint the source of your anxiety,
the dark feeling vibrating at the periphery
of your awareness as you go about your
ordinary tasks, wondering if the noise
in the heating system is the first sign
of a major breakdown, or mice moving
inside since the temps are below freezing.
That quickened heartbeat and sudden sweat
was perhaps caused by a word on the radio,
an adjective generating a cascade of associations,
triggering an old anger or alarm. It spurs
your jaw and shoulder muscles to tighten,
as if a stray crow were nesting, collecting
twigs on your shoulder, whispering a recitation
of all the harsh words you said to innocent
others you will never find to make apologies.
You try to retrace the progression of thoughts,
backtracking through a morass of sticky connections,
like trying to remove bubblegum from a child’s hair
when only scissors will help, an effort that leaves you
disoriented, bumbling, in need of a long nap
and three Milano mint cookies.

*From The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows by John Koenig



When it’s too quiet for too long,
when my mind isn’t full of worries
about characters in the latest novel
I’m reading— Will these college
boys be arrested or redeemed?
How will they live with guilt?

When I’m overtired or can’t sleep
past midnight or I’m alert at 3 AM,
I go back forty years, articulate
precise words, reply by saying
NO, hold onto my NO, no matter
the pressure to surrender

to his will, his demands for money
I don’t owe, favors he shouldn’t
be asking. In these conversations
I’ve rewritten and replayed
a thousand times, I say,

I’m your patient. You’re out of line.
What you’re asking is immoral,
unethical, and against the law.

and I walk out, never to return.
I’m on the edge of my final say,
on the cliff of resolution, letting go,
opening my fist to drop this fixation.
I hear the splash, watch it sink deep,
never to be heard again.

*Jouska. Noun. a hypothetical conversation you compulsively
play out in your head.

From The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows by John Koenig.
Pronounced “zhoos-ka



I’d like to start a day uninterested in checking the news
on three sites, indifferent to what I missed while sleeping,
not wondering what human or planetary disaster unfolded
while I traversed dreamland. How easy it once was to be
absorbed counting my books and pairs of earrings,
at most worried about car problems instead of empathizing
with refugees and the homeless living in boxes. I’d like
to play Frisbee on the beach, walk for miles without
a destination, retrace my steps to find my way home
without a phone or map. I wish to be lifted from the pain
of past blunders of choosing critical, dominating men
because they felt familiar. I could become one of those
who says, “I have no regrets. Everything that happened
made me who I am,” as if they’re proud of turning into
a snobby tyrant. Wouldn’t it be lovely to wake each day
with a focus on hikes in the woods, painting en plein air
on the back deck, reading Dickens. No radio or podcasts
about managing grief or listing climate change horrors
to come, nothing about classified documents or cover-ups.
Oh, to be completely unperturbed by news of shootings,
mass graves discovered, sexual assaults, the cyclone
approaching a coastal community with a ten-foot
storm surge. I could buy a deluxe set of Wilton cake
decorating tips like the one I gave away years ago,
still new in the box. I could make chocolate cupcakes
look like roses, dahlias, and blooming cacti.

Liberosis.* Noun. The desire to care less about things;
to figure out a way to relax your grip on life and hold it loosely
and playfully.

From The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows by John Koenig.


Joan Mazza has worked as a medical microbiologist, psychotherapist, and taught workshops nationally on understanding dreams and nightmares. She is the author of six self-help psychology books, including Dreaming Your Real Self (Penguin/Putnam). Her poetry has appeared in The Comstock Review, Potomac Review The MacGuffin, Slant, Prairie Schooner, Poet Lore, The Nation, and many other publications. She lives in rural central Virginia.

Leave a Reply