Barbara Crooker has published poems in magazines such as Yankee, The Christian Science Monitor, and The Denver Quarterly; anthologies, including Worlds in their Words: An Anthology of Contemporary American Women Writers (Prentice Hall), eleven chapbooks, and two full-length books, Radiance, which won the 2005 Word Press First Book Award and was a finalist for the 2006 Paterson Poetry Prize, and Line Dance, also from Word. She has received three Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Fellowships in Literature, the WB Yeats Society of NY Prize (Grace Schulman, judge), the Grayson Books Chapbook Competition (Sue Ellen Thompson, judge,) and the Thomas Merton Poetry of the Sacred Award (Stanley Kunitz, judge). She lives and writes in rural northeastern Pennsylvania with her husband and adult son, who has autism, and who works in shipping and receiving at a local department store.
A winter evening,
sky, the color of cobalt,
the night coming down like the lid on a pot.
On the stove, the ghosts of summer simmer:
tomatoes, garlic, basil, oregano.
Steam from the kettle rises,
wreathes the windows.
You come running when I reach for the grater,
“Help me?” you ask, reversing the pronouns,
part of your mind’s disordered scramble.
Together, we hold the rind of the cheese,
scrape our knuckles on the metal teeth.
A fresh pungency enters the room.
You put your fingers in the fallen crumbs:
“Snow,” you proudly exclaim, and look at me.
Three years old, nearly mute,
but the master of metaphor.
Most of the time, we speak without words.
Outside, the icy stones in the sky
glitter in their random order.
It’s a night so cold, the very air freezes flesh,
a knife in the lungs, wind rushing
over the coil of the planet
straight from Siberia,
a high howl from the wolves of the steppes.
As we grate and grate, the drift rises higher.
When the family gathers together,
puts pasta in their bowls,
ladles on the simmered sauce,
you will bless each one
with a wave of your spoon:
You’re the weatherman
of the kitchen table.
And, light as feathers,
the parmesan sprinkles down,
its newly fallen snow
gracing each plate.
“Grating Parmesan” first appeared in The Denver Quarterly
Form and Void
“For him [the autistic child], everything is form.”
“Glory be to God for dappled things. All things counter, original, spare, strange…”
Gerard Manley Hopkins
The boy is blowing bubbles
with his mother, shimmering orbs
that glitter and dance
on the face of the lawn.
He prances after them, staring
with the deep mirror of his eyes
as they pop and disappear.
Flapping his arms, he chases them
toward the garden cosmos,
their mauve & lilac gowns
of silk voile waltzing
in the breeze.
He orbits around his mother
as she dips in her wand,
produces these baubles
from breath and film.
The glassy bubbles rise in a swirl
of pink & blue, a moment’s iridescence.
This is the only magic the mother can conjure,
she cannot help him talk or say his name.
But they can do this together,
blow bubbles on a breezy afternoon,
make a strand of hand-blown beads
to grace the throat of the lawn.
“Form and Void” first appeared in Poets On:
My autistic son showed me his paper
from remedial English; he was supposed
to fill in the blanks: Cool as a _________.
Smooth as a ________. Neat as a _____.
He came up with: angry as a teakettle,
and when I asked, “Why?” said, “Because
it was boiling mad.” Of course,
it was marked wrong, one more red mark
in his life’s long test.
When I called from Virginia to ask him
what he did last weekend,
he said, “We bought Italian salad dressing.”
Last fall, we went to a Broadway play;
what he liked the most
were traffic lights and Don’t Walk signs.
Oh, my little pork chop, my sweet potato, my tender tot.
You have made me pay attention to the world’s smallest
minutia. My pea-shaped heart, red as a stop sign,
swells, fills with the helium of tenderness, thinks it might burst.
“Simile” first appeared in Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review