Poems 'Forged By Joy' From Laura Mazza-Dixon

Laura Mazza-Dixon is an environmentalist, a gifted organizer of artistic events in the Granby area, a passionate gardener, a hiker who rises early to trek the hills of Granby. She is a musician whose guitar and viola da gamba do consummate justice to traditional Celtic, Renaissance and Baroque music in concert with other musicians. Co-director of the Bruce Porter Memorial Music series and organizer of the Poetry at the Cossitt series in North Granby, Laura has recently worked with poet Kate Rushin and area churches to present Courageous Conversations on Race poetry workshops. Her new book, "Forged by Joy," shows how grief and despair can be forged into joy on the anvil of courage and faith. Below is a selection of poems from that book.

– Rennie McQuilkin, CT poet laureate

Rondo for Wood Thrush and Salamander

I. Overture

Begin at the end of the long season of snow and ice.

Wake with the birds that welcome the early dawn.

Find the walking stick you left last fall leaning

against a tree at the bottom of the hill.

Walk deep into the woods, where sunlight streams

through the branches of trees, leaf buds barely visible.

Mourn the birches that came down in the winter,

admire the way they have begun to loosen their bark.

It is the season of skunk cabbage and fiddlehead ferns.

The woods are waiting. It is time. Listen!

II. Rondo

When the melting snow carves channels

down the steepest section of the rocky path

and softens the ground all the way to the brook,

the horses' hooves sink deep into the mud

on the trail at the bottom of the hill.

Tread the muddy trail with care,

watch the ground beneath your feet.

The woods are coming back to life,

for it will be, as it has always been,

a time for listening. Listen!

When the acorns begin to unzip their brown jackets,

showing glimpses of scarlet beneath, you will find

the white stars low beside the trail,

and the dark red trillium at the top of the hill.

Then you will know the time is near. Listen!

One day soon, three notes of silver will float

from a high branch, followed a by a rapid trill,

a moment of silence, and another spiral of silver notes.

The wood thrush has returned, singing.

Tread the muddy trail with care,

watch the ground beneath your feet.

The woods are coming back to life,

for it will be, as it has always been,

a time for listening. Listen!

The thrush sings three quicker notes, not audible before,

followed by a longer trill and the beginning of a new song,

leaping higher and dipping down to finish

with a port de voix, an ornament favored

by composers in France before the Revolution.

The next day, the song of the first wood thrush

is answered by a companion singing higher up the hillside.

The two begin trading questions and answers,

like Gabrieli's antiphonal choirs sounding from one balcony

to another across the majestic nave of San Marco.

Tread the muddy trail with care,

watch the ground beneath your feet.

The woods are coming back to life,

for it will be, as it has always been,

a time for listening. Listen! And look!

Along the wettest path, where the water

runs beneath the layers of oak leaves, one by one,

the bright orange salamanders appear.

Each miniature flame pauses in climbing position

with its legs outstretched, believing itself invisible.

Could the salamanders be listening too?

Count your steps as you climb the hill. Look down.

The day after a heavy rain, you will find

a tiny orange salamander at every seventh step.

Tread the muddy trail with care,

watch the ground beneath your feet.

The woods are coming back to life,

for it will be, as it has always been,

a time for listening. Listen! Listen!

Mother's Day

In the pre-dawn sky,

the barest crescent of a moon

rises behind the scrim

of this year's new leaves.

The person in the mirror

stands in the half-light,

her body undeniably solid,

its contours reminiscent

of the women

a generation

before and after her.

Among these three women

three dialogues have begun

spiraling across decades

of the past and future.

At no other time will the mother,

her mother, and her daughter

be aligned in just this way.

The sweetness of the blossoms

on the apple trees will last

only a few more days.

I will go into the garden

before the sun is up.

The Red Tulip

The other day I passed

a tall red tulip standing

by itself along the roadside

and thought of you,

a young girl in a green dress,

back straight, head held high,

crossing the recital stage,

determination in every step.

The bulbs I planted

the fall before you were born

wintered over during

long months of dreaming.

In the light reflected by the snow

I laid bright squares of cloth

in patterns on the dark table,

joined them with narrow seams

into rows of diamonds

to cushion the sides of your crib.

I watched the bulbs sending

up shoots, and then buds,

as the days grew warmer,

and rejoiced with the chorus

of seven tall red tulips

that opened the week you were born.

The last time I saw you,

a fierce desire for independence

burned in your gaze.

Your eyes held a plea as well,

one you would not acknowledge.

When you turned away last fall,

striding down the grey streets of London,

in your red winter coat,

shoulders squared, I knew you were gone.

You are a young woman now,

strong in spirit, but still fragile;

my days are full of your absence,

my nights lost in concern for you.

So, when I found the red tulip

lying in the grass yesterday,

its stem broken off at the base,

I could not leave it there.

I brought it home with me,

filled a small glass vase

with water from the tap,

set it on the kitchen windowsill.

The tulip's satin petals,

veined deep red on red,

respond to the light.

I watch it opening

in the morning

and closing at night.

I remind myself it is not mine,

though I admire it.

I say a prayer for myself

for wisdom, while I learn

to give you room to breathe,

and a prayer for you,

for protection, while you learn

to stand alone.

Things That Remain

I found the shards of your project

from pre-school lying scattered

across the floor this morning.

Scowling at the orange cat,

whose business it is to find

things that can be broken

and break them,

I bent in grief to retrieve

the pieces, and found that

the three small shells

that had been embedded

in white plaster,

were now free.

I stand by the window

in the afternoon light,

with the three small shells

in the palm of my hand,

reading the poem

you have just written,

a gift which allows me

a glimpse of your resilience.

I am grateful for this reminder

that the most precious

things cannot be broken

and sometimes are freed

when what holds them

breaks open.

The Return

Even at mid-day in the heat of summer,

here, where the brook slows and bends

to pass the granite shoulder of Broad Hill,

the air will always be cool.

Here, the pool will be still enough

for skimming dragonflies to draw concentric circles

that overlap and widen across its dark surface.

Here I stand and wait, watching

as the hatchling trout dart just below the surface,

remembering two small girls at play,

laughing, small bodies glistening.

May the memory of this stillness,

and the currents running deep beneath,

be a sanctuary to which you can always return.

The Brilliant Assault

I took offense,

the year she died,

that summer's green

should be forged into gold.

When the birches on the hill

began polishing their swords,

I looked away,

refused to admire the rosehips

ripening by the pasture,

took no joy in the late strawberries

or the miniature constellations

of wild asters by the old stone wall.

I steeled myself

against the alleluias

ringing from each bronze leaf

beneath that lapis sky.

I suppose I should have joined them.

"No, not this year," I thought,

"Not so soon.

Not now."

Instead, I hardened my heart

against my favorite maple at the corner,

and walked right by,

pretending not to care.

Another day or two

of such relentless glory

and I might have been defeated,

my heart pierced by swords of joy

on every side.

Can joy weigh more than grief?

I can't decide.

But never mind, the question's moot;

the brilliant assault is nearly over now.

Discarded weapons lie in drifts, tarnish

edging each cunning curve and point.

See how the news flies south?

Wings beat victory over and over

against the knowing sky.

Trampling the last crimson daggers

to a rustle along the road,

I wonder if it would have been

better to have lost.

Poems copyright 2017 by Laura Mazza-Dixon

CT Poet Laureate Rennie McQuilkin selects work for CT Poets Corner by invitation. More from Connecticut's poets here

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