Forged by joy poems by Laura Mazza-Dixon

picture of Laura Mazza-Dixon
Photograph by Wendy Van Welie  

Showing how the cauldron of grief and despair can produce hard-earned joy wrought on the anvil of courage and faith, Laura Mazza-Dixon has forged a book to inspire all who yearn to move past seemingly insurmountable losses. About the book, Doug Anderson has written, “Laura Mazza-Dixon’s Forged By Joy is a test of light against time, from innocence to loss, a spiritual autobiography seen first through a girl’s eyes that behold wonder in everything, including stones – sea-polished ovals, green trapezoids laced with gold – and forged through a life of art and love and loss, arriving at the question, Can joy weigh more than grief? These are graceful, softly cadenced poems of belief carried against the final darkness we all face.” Tryfon Tolides, adds this: “Laura Mazza-Dixon weaves a community in the poems of her first book. She draws her own design of what a family tree might look like. In addition to relatives, her tree contains friends and people she’s never met, such as Arvo Pärt (who ‘sought solace/ in silence’), Bach, various writers and artists, and her readers. There is loss of various kinds in the tree, but art and joy balance what is painful and dark. All of it – beauty, joy, grief, death – is ‘encompassed by grandeur.’ How does she work? Just as her brother’s grave was dug by her father and brothers, and just as her garden was dug by her, Laura Mazza-Dixon’s poems are ‘dug by hand.’ No fancy machines do the work, but the presence of a mature attention, and time taken to be with things and the lives of others, and with the poems. This quality of attentiveness and patience is our only way of understanding anything. Laura shows us what taking time is. We learn by following the ways and delights of her poems. And we too ‘can be grateful.’ ”
  forgred by joy cover image
  Tissue paper collage by Lisa Leach.

The eldest of six children born to an Italian-American father with the passionate temperament of a reformer and a mother deeply rooted in the optimism and pragmatism of her New England ancestors, Laura Mazza-Dixon grew up close to her grandparents in State College, Pennsylvania, embraced by their family traditions and keenly aware of the differences between them.  Music, the life of the spirit, political activism, poetry, and the natural world have been her passions. She plays and teaches both guitar and viola da gamba, with a particular interest in traditional Celtic, Renaissance and Baroque music. She has been a guiding spirit behind the Bruce Porter Memorial Music Series and the Granby Family Dance Series in Granby, CT.  Religious and meditative traditions have been at the heart of Laura’s life since childhood, always viewed through the lens of her questioning spirit and inspiring her to promote social and political change. From her earliest days, she has been a poet and a promoter of poetry, writing with great energy and organizing the Poetry at the Cossitt series. Recently, she has also organized Courageous Conversations on Race poetry workshops in Granby, where she lives and tends to the gardens and plantings that have been a mainstay in her life. In what little is left of her spare time, she hikes the woods of Connecticut with Tuddy, her guardian canine spirit, and relishes the life of coastal Maine, the ancestral home of her mother’s family.

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ISBN 978-1-943826-19-3

First Edition 2017

6" x 9" paperback, 122 pages

This book can be ordered from all bookstores, including Amazon.



Copyright © 2017 by Laura Mazza-Dixon

First Communion

The little pear tree in the backyard
had blossoms all along the branches.

The buds on the grapevines growing
over the arched trellis were getting fat.

Before her Sicilian grandmother tore
the tattered sheet into long strips,
she sat beneath the kitchen window
and shredded the coconut she would use
to decorate the Easter cake she would bake
in the shape of a lamb.

The little girl had been taught
that Jesus was the Lamb of God.
She knew that the next day
she would stand in line
at the front of the church down the street
to receive the bread and wine.

The priest was the only one who was allowed
to hold the holy sacrament of His Body and Blood.
She would keep her hands pressed together, open her mouth,
and wait for him to place the wafer on her tongue.

She could not know if it would be the same priest
who had sat that Friday afternoon in the little wooden box
with the crisscrossing grate at the back corner of the church,
because she could not see him when she made her confession.

She could not remember what she said that day anyway,
because she hardly ever did anything wrong.

As she sat on the piano bench, waiting
for her long, wet hair to be wound
with the strips of cloth, she thought about
the dark suit her grandfather always wore
when he stood at the back of the church
and walked the families to their seats.

Grandfather seemed a little stern in that suit,
and not likely to whistle the way
he did when he was measuring things
with his big folding ruler, or putting the level
up to see if the little golden bubble
was in the middle where he wanted it to be.

On this night, she would sleep all night
at her grandparent’s house, in the room
where the lights came through the venetian blinds
and crawled up the wall when the big trucks climbed the hill.

She was surprised to be sent to bed with her hair still wet,
knowing her mother would not approve.

In the morning, she came down the stairs,
and made the sign of the cross with the holy water
in the little metal dish on the wall on the landing

and sat very still on the piano bench,
while her grandmother undid the knots,
unwinding the strips of old sheet one at a time.

Then her grandmother took the new white dress
from the closet and slid it over her shoulders
and zipped it up the back.

Soon her parents and brothers and sisters
came with the new baby
and saw her hair falling in long curls
underneath the white veil
she had been given the day before.

They all walked in the cool air
to the little stone church with the sign
saying Our Lady of Victory
and sat in a row in a dark wooden pew.

When the priest walked into the church
she could feel her hair hanging,
still damp, and a little cold,
down the back of her white dress.

She sat so close to the front of the church
she could hear the latch on the little door
when the priest took the Holy Sacrament
out for communion.

She watched him hold the big wafer
up over his head, and then bless it
and break it into two pieces.

The rest of her family was unusually quiet.
Her brothers were not fidgeting.
Her little sister sat with her legs
sticking straight out in front of her.

Her grandmother had a small veil pinned
to the top of her head, and her mother
wore a little flat hat with a ribbon around the edge.

She looked over at her father once
and found him smiling at her reassuringly.
He had on his dark overcoat and his good shoes.

When it was time she followed the line
of the children from her Catechism class
up to the front of the church.

Her eyes were on the floor
right in front of her
until she reached the priest
standing on the first step
with the wafer in his hand.

When he put it in her mouth
she did not chew it but let it dissolve,
turned to walk back to her seat
and knelt on the cushion to pray.

Afterwards, walking out of the church
and down the stone steps
beside her mother and father,
with her brothers and sisters
all around her,

she stepped over the cracks
in the sidewalk, for good luck,
knew she was different,
but not exactly how.


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.

The Lady and the Unicorn

The grey stone walls of the small underground chamber
at the Cluny Museum in Paris are warmed by six ancient tapestries.

In each one, a royal lady, a lion and a unicorn interact
against a background of flowers woven into a red field.

In some of them, the lady’s handmaiden appears as well,
but she is not in attendance in this one.

Here the lady sits on a bench outdoors,
with an oak tree on her right and a holly on her left.

Many bright wildflowers have been knotted into the grass
where two rabbits and a small spotted dog play at her feet.

The unicorn sits to her left, with both front hooves in her lap.
He has turned the burgundy lining of her overskirt inside out.

With her delicately embroidered skirts in disarray,
the lady looks down and to the side in a melancholy way,

while he admires his long horn and his dashing goatee
in the ornate mirror she holds in her right hand.

Her left hand lies along his neck, tangled in his white mane,
where she has been stroking him absent-mindedly.

The young lion who bears her standard, three crescent moons
rising diagonally across a blue banner, averts his eyes.

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.


Disturbing the Lavender

Herbs tend to be tough by nature,
and that is why they are such gratifying
garden citizens. They give and give.

Stephen Orr, The New American Herbal


The lavender on her doorstep
has survived the winter once again,
but not without complaint.

I never can resist the temptation
to reach down and break off
a few of the soft grey-green leaves,

spin them gently between
my thumb and my fingertips
until they release the scent I love.

The friend who greets me at the door
has spent her long life dedicated
to the things that matter:

discipline, posture, articulation,
hand position, French pronunciation,
punctuation and grammar.

Drawn by her attention to detail
I have been bold enough to approach,
disturbing her solitude again and again
to learn lessons about keeping one’s focus,
sharing conversations
about teaching music, writing, painting,
birds, children, grandchildren, and gardens.

Now she rests against the cushions of the sofa,
the upholstery a deep orange
with tiny suns of gold scattered across it
like photos sent back by a telescope in space,

shocked that the students narrating
Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals
could not pronounce the composer’s name.

It will be up to someone else
to correct such errors now.

Lost in a book about the kings
of England, she will not show me
her last painting, nor the murder
mystery she wrote years ago.

At her request, I ask no more questions.

Her eyes close against the pain
while I gather tools from the shed,
plant pansies in pots to place
on the flagstone beside her front door,

set primroses in beds along the deck
beneath the hemlock tree
where she hangs the bird feeders.

I close the door quietly.