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Barbara Crooker

January 2009



won’t speak to me, remains recalcitrant, adamantine, a hard
white lump, brown veins running through it, like these ropes
in my hands, the knobby knuckles, the writer’s bump, the ragged
cuticle I can’t stop chewing, and there, lurking beneath the skin,
like crappies in a murky pool—a school of age spots waiting
to surface, to map the pond with their islands, brown lily pads
some warty frog could spring from.  And where can I spring
to now, how many more times will I hear peepers’ love songs
in the swamps, see red alders swell with buds, watch the woods
wake up, trout lilies and trillium pushing up from the duff?
I go back to looking at the rock in my hand, thinking
about the stony places—grit in the eye, pebble in the shoe,
all those hard deposits in my heart.


She handed me a ring of small keys,
they tinkled like bells, nickel and brass
alloys, jingled and clanged
as they turned in my palm.
And what did they open?
A valise packed for Paris,
or a golden locket?   The diary
of a thirteen-year-old girl, pink
leather cover, or were they keys
of a different order, the ones
that tell the notes how to line up
on the staff?  A prime idea. 
The featured speaker.  Star witness
for the defense.  Excited, jazzed,
buzzed.  The right strokes,
on the computer.  Tiny tropical
islands, drifting away from Florida.
That handful of words, spoken
by a lover, that unclench the heart.


In the beginning, God separated the darkness from the light,
like two different skeins of wool, and She saw that it was good.
She scooped up clay, rolled balls and snakes in her hands,
joined them together with spit and tears, created them
man and woman.  After that messy bit in the apple orchard,
She gave them their roles:  Woman would wear pinstripes,
oxfords, go forth to the office with a briefcase and laptop,
have a staff.  Man would stay home, bake bread, have babies,
work part-time jobs at minimum wage, balance
the checkbook, correct homework, drive children
to the orthodontist/dance lessons/swim team, scrub
floors, patch jeans, and still have a hot dinner
on the table every night at five.  When all the bright
balls Adam was juggling came bouncing down
on his head, God reconsidered.  “Let’s start again
from scratch,” She said.


full-fat buttercups glisten, and honeysuckle
plays its siren song, sweetness on the air.
Lemon balm, lemon thyme, lemonade,
all need a scoop of sugar, rock crystals dissolving
on the tongue, dangerous as methamphetamine.
What we are drawn to sometimes destroys us,
our bodies’ hungers confused in the labyrinth
of advertising claims.  Nobody longs
for the sharpness of chives, the pungence of sage,
the tang of oregano. No one makes them into soft drink
flavors or markets them on a flickering screen.  Still,
let’s hear it for the herbs; without them minced and chopped
in a stew, recipes would have no savor, without them,
our lives would be monochromes, tuneless songs,
a field of genetically modified corn stretching,
an ocean of flat bland green,
as far as the eye can see.


Susan, how are you holding up?  It’s me, Samuel, Tessa’s oldest boy;
I was one of the firefighters who tried to save your house.  We did as best
we could, but sometimes a fire’s fiercer than you’d think, and once it gets
no one can stop it, not our best bucket brigade, not even the water
pumped from Lake Iroquois pouring out the hoses’ mouths.  That fire
turned on us, became a tiger, jagged claws of flame, an angry roar.
It beat us bad, and that’s the truth.  And all you had was lost.
But Susan, you got out.  It was only bricks and wood.  I remember
in school, you once said some sort of bird could rise burning
from the embers, live again as something new.  We’re taking up
a collection, here in town; me and the boys will help you put it right.
Even out of ashes, something green will send up shoots.


wears the sun in her hair
has a necklace of dandelions
woven in braids.  She Who Is
Mother knits sweaters in yarn
colored orange russet gold,
keeps her children warm
when stars fall as frost.
She Who Is Mother has a box
of pastel chalks, colors in
the new leaves, scribbles the world
green and gold, pink and white.
She Who Is Mother has a lap
deep as a soup kettle, ladles out
noodles, carrots, broth.  She
Who Is Mother has arms
that can bend, fingers that can
mend a tear in a shirt, or wipe tears
from a dirt-streaked cheek.
She cradles the earth in her hands.

Barbara Crooker's work has appeared in magazines such as Yankee, The Christian Science Monitor, Highlights for Children, and The Journal of American Medicine (JAMA). She is the recipient of the 2006 Ekphrastic Poetry Award from Rosebud, the 2004 WB Yeats Society of New York Award, the 2003 Thomas Merton Poetry of the Sacred Award, three Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Creative Writing Fellowships, and has been a twenty-six time nominee for the Pushcart Prize. Radiance, her first full-length book, won the 2005 Word Press First Book competition and was a finalist for the 2006 Paterson Poetry Prize; her new book, Line Dance is recently out from Word Press.

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