Joan Mazza worked as a medical microbiologist and psychotherapist, and taught workshops on dreams and nightmares. She is the author of six books, including Dreaming Your Real Self, and her poetry has appeared in The MacGuffin, Prairie Schooner, Poet Lore, and The Nation. She lives in rural central Virginia. www.JoanMazza.com
There’s always at least one in any group
of eight or ten, one who chooses to ignore
the norms of sharing time or taking
turns. They keep the focus on themselves.
They offer to facilitate, then back out
a few days before we meet, seek sympathy
because they’re so overwhelmed,
although they live alone, retired, flush
with church groups, support, and cash.
They bring new members without asking
for the group’s consent, insist everyone
write to prompts given when we’ve agreed
we can write whatever’s pressing.
They’re resentful when someone doesn’t read
aloud, although we’ve made clear the writer
can share or not. No explanation needed.
They whine, It’s not fair! when they don’t
get their way or critique time isn’t meant
for gushing praise—for only them. They
catalog secrets to deploy them as weapons
over lunch to play mean shrink. All women,
past seventy, but they seem like children
not yet socialized by kindergarten or play
dates. In retirement homes, the staff will
learn to ignore their howls and tantrums.
What are you for?
You might remember me when I was a plain
wooden spoon, stirring the same old pea soup
of greenish glop with bits of smoky pork,
not letting it settle to the bottom to scorch.
Flattened on one edge, I wore out, cracked,
and went the way of all wooden utensils—
back to the earth, but first through fire.
I’ve returned— not as a plastic coffee scoop,
not a measuring cup with faded lines. See me!
I’m a whisk: tall and slender, wired tight.
My cool metal curves suggest a gentler turn,
but you would be deceived in believing so.
I’m made to whip you into froth, to mix
what resists mixing, ends as soft white peaks,
tasty meringue, sweet whipped cream, uprising
that looks like snow-capped mountains.
Strong stainless steel, but I give and bend,
without breaking. I endure through all hard
changes. Let’s not hide in a cupboard
to languish in the dark and dust. Disobey!
Calling all agitators! Let’s stir things up.
Reading The Handmaid’s Tale Again after Twenty-Two Years
Men hanging on the wall
from hooks, cloth bags over their faces.
Who could forget that?
Women not allowed to go
anywhere alone. Or read and write.
Who could forget that?
No freedom to choose
who to love or how to be touched.
No pleasure in sex.
To be only a vessel for growing
babies, savior of the human species
on the brink. Killed
if you flout the rules, speak
when not spoken to.
The commanders are men, white
and old. Everyone doing their duty
or killed. No one happy.
Women locked up in rooms. Silent,
wearing the proscribed habit, colors.
Never let them get close
or allow them to love each other.
Who could forget?
I Take My Grandmother to Wegmans
She’s wearing a shabby housedress and apron
my mother must have bought her on one
of her trips to the Bronx. Her shoes have
changed their shape to fit her feet. Walking
next to me she holds onto the wagon
as I do, both of us old women now.
I steer toward the produce department and let her
pick things up in wonderment at star fruit,
Asian pears, chayote squash. She sees numbers,
appalled by the prices, but my few Italian words
can’t explain inflation or my new standard
of living. One artichoke is 2.49, not the five
for a dollar as she remembers from 1980, her last
year. Illiterate, keeps asking me, What’s this?
in Sicilian, happy to recognize escarole, spinach,
broccoli. Some things haven’t changed.
She squints at the bright fluorescent lights,
the absurd variety of hot sauce, cookies, cereals,
paper plates and cups in red, white, and blue.
Before the buffet, I gesture to show we must wash
our hands, and lead her into the restroom
to the handicap stall with space for both of us.
And privacy. I’m watching her discover
all the electronic eyes hidden here,
how the toilet flushes when she moves away,
the dispensing soap and faucet, the dryer
that sees our hands and blows the water off.
She’s awed and dismayed, confused by so much
new. I am, too. She keeps nodding, trying
to take in all I offer, piles up her take-out
container at the buffet because she thinks
it’s free, like at a wedding. When I pay,
she wants to look at my credit card. Again
words fail me. But the food is good. And
she eats and eats and tells me, Mangia!
I answer, Mangia tutti! as I watch her.
On the Couch
is not the same as on the cushion
in meditation, paying attention
to the flow of thoughts and feelings
but not reporting them to someone
who sits behind the couch, noting
on a yellow pad what he thinks
might be significant. That surrender
to another’s interpretations leaves me
wondering. Is this still de rigueur
in certain circles of psychology?
Meant to lower one’s defenses,
to let what’s below the surface rise
for patient and analyst to hold up
to the light, to examine at a distance,
dis-identified from content. An ideal
like believing in the resurrection
of an uncorrupted body and soul,
an afterlife of endless joy, praising
God for all eternity. Is that what
the doctor wanted for himself, sure
he was entitled to skip Purgatory?
I can see her lying there, young
and thin, her dark hair spread
across the tan cylindrical pillow,
as her new god gazed down on her,
tallied her faults and failings, sins
to be paid for before absolution,
and those yet to be committed.
I discover compassion for that girl,
and for her hapless, angry husband,
who knew he’d lost her and didn’t
fight to win her back. On the couch
at home, he drank his beer with beer.
From the Editor:
We hope that readers receive In Parentheses as a medium through which the evolution of human thought can be appreciated, nurtured and precipitated. It will present a dynamo of artistic expression, journalism, informal analysis of our daily world, entertainment of ideas considered lofty and criticism of today’s popular culture. The featured content does not follow any specific ideology except for that of intellectual expansion of the masses.
Founded in late 2011, In Parentheses prides itself upon analysis of the current condition of intelligence in the minds of these young people, and building a hypothesis for one looming question: what comes after Post-Modernism?
The idea for this magazine stems from a simple conversation regarding the aforementioned question, which drew out the need to identify our generation’s place in literary history.
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By In Parentheses in IP Volume 7
32 pages, published 1/15/2022