“Cooked Under Pressure” & Other Poems * Joan Mazza

Cooked Under Pressure

My mother loved her pressure cooker
and gave testimony as if in a commercial:
Preserves vitamins, fast cooking!
Energy efficient! Sterilizes your food!

Even quick-cooking vegetables
like spinach, escarole, and broccoli
went under the power of pressure,
set the valve jiggling as if it might

explode at any second. My father arrived
as Mother served the meal. He washed
his hands and ate in silence, while
pressure built in that small dinette.

We knew he could blow any time,
expected his curses, raised voice.
My mother never complained about
cooking and neither did I. Cooking

was a way to relieve the tension, long
after he blasted off. Half a century later,
they’re still arguing in my kitchen
while I try to fall asleep.



Long ago, my grandfather watered his garden
at dusk. I stood next to his solid bulk. A summer
evening, my parents gone for a few days.

He swung the hose back and forth, making rain
over the broccoli and Swiss chard. Over the back
fence, I could see the daycare center my cousin

Maria attended when she stayed a whole month
with our grandparents. “Vegetable,” he said,
emphasis on the TA syllable, as in Italian.

He bent to pick basil, thrust a sprig under my nose,
scent forever linked to him. Basilico! he sang.
Twenty years later, after his funeral Mass,

we went back to that house and garden.|
My grandmother wrapped a bunch of basil
to take home to my own kitchen. I was still

cooking, though my marriage was decomposing.
I made meatballs, opened the fresh basil and sniffed,
fusing my grandfather and soon-to-be ex-husband.


Start with an Onion

Peel the surface of orange-brown crinkle,
cut in half, then slice thin strips through
all the layers. Toss into hot olive oil
with a sizzle and scent containing
thousands of aromatic chemicals
and a million memories that rise
to permeate your day, hair, and clothing,

reminder of that perfect metaphor of unmasking,
understanding the self, for delving
into unknown strata to find what’s there:
fossilized remains of bones and teeth,
evidence of another culture, holy imprints
of footsteps and creatures once ordinary.

You chop bok choy, celery, scallions,
and notice their fibers, strings that hold
them up, turgid with water. Add garlic,
sesame oil, slivered ginger, and soy sauce.
They steam, flavors marry and mix,
while you salivate with desire. On top,
toss in shrimp and crabmeat, cover to cook

with the remains of heat inside. Serve
on capellini— angel hair! A meal
you’ve anticipated with lust, created
layer by layer, as you develop yourself,
a magical alchemy, offered and served
in defiance of the Old Testament.


—About the Author—

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

*For more of Joan’s wonderful work, check out “A Septic Tank” and Other Poems*