Barbara Crooker

In King of Prussia

Sitting here watching the snow slip from pines, no rush,
just blue jays going back and forth to the feeders, the hush
when the world is muffled up in white. Airbrush
the scruffy lawn—that's what the snow does, whoosh—
erasing bare patches, motley weeds. The opposite of lush,
a season of meager, everything holding its breath, the thrush
yet to return, flute its ee oh lay in the woods. Sunrise's flush
seems promising, but spring is reluctant, like cornmeal mush
that won't set up, a bud that won't open, a gush
of water stuck in a frozen tap. Listen, I need some color: blush
of a rose, redbird in the underbrush, face cards in a royal flush,
or, if it just comes down to dust, the lurid glow of Orange Crush….


after Barbara Hamby's Sonnets from the Psalms
the first phrase is from Psalm 51

Make me hear joy and gladness, even though I watch
Fox News, see the hysterical headlines repeat themselves
nightly. Sometimes I think the only cure's a hit of Scotch,
amber in a tumbler. There are bruises, cuts, no salve
can remedy. Add to this: reality shows, tabloids, talk radio,
the world's foolishness on display: game show hosts, faux celebrities.
Whose woods these are, I think I know, but Placido Dominigo
beats me to it, his pure notes soaring above the trees.
Maybe clouds are the only media we should attend to.
They know what's important, that it's all water vapor,
ephemera, subject to the whim of the wind. So much blue
to be written on, or not. Some days, it's just vacant ether.
So flatten my heart, three-personned God, teach me how to listen
above the rhetoric, the verbiage, the static on the Internet, amen.

Writer's Retreat, Ireland

a gigan

Autumn again, and a cold wind is blowing,
stripping gold leaves from the coppery beech.

I'm here alone, there's an ocean between
us, the cold north Atlantic, the color
of grief. Outside my window, an armada

of clouds, gunmetal gray, obscuring the sky.
Here, there's no news, only the weather, so I'm

getting my gossip from the whispers of aspens
that glitter like coins at the top of the lane. Here,

rowans are sacred, fairy rings bring protection.
Autumn again, let the cold wind blow

off the clouds, bring back cobalt skies.
I should be lonely; instead, it's a respite,
steeped in my work like a pot full of tea.

The wind keeps on saying It's time to come home
; I'll be on that plane, but I won't be the same.

Late October, Ireland

A sad air's best for night as you mope about
the house, closing windows, checking doors.
Slow, cumulative strokes of the violin bow,
the most ruminative notes that can be coaxed.
     Dennis O'Driscoll, "Nocturne Op. 2"

The late afternoon light's the color of tea,
and I sink in an armchair, open a book.
Outside my window, the leaves are on fire,
color of embers when flames have died down.
Night comes too early, curtains are drawn.
Lamps cast bright circles, the sun's bulb's burnt out,
and the darkness seems total, shadows that you
could spread with a knife. Turn on the radio, listen
to music. October should be played on a violin, no doubt.
A sad air's best for night as you mope about.

A night without sleeping, a night that seems endless,
dark dreams no rational thought could dispel.
This is the end of the Celtic year's cycle, and the veil
between living and dead grows filmy and thin. Every year
one or two friends have gone missing, those who
have rowed on the outgoing tide. Shadows pool on the floor,
while outside, it's thick as a black tom cat's fur.
There's nothing to do, as I toss on my pillow, so I walk
down the hall, make my rounds, shutting drawers—secure
the house, closing windows, checking doors.

Morning comes crashing, put on the kettle. Pour me another,
it's been a bad night. In the garden, there's apples
ready for cider, or perhaps something harder
to ward off the dark. For make no mistake, now,
summer is over, days are far shorter, the wind
has a chill. Leaves on the aspen have all turned to yellow,
the color of money, the coin in the potato. There's a coal
in the turnip to light our way forward. We put on masks
so the dead will not see. Place a lock of your hair in the fire, so.
Slow cumulative strokes of the violin bow.

The wind's violin howls a tune down the chimney.
Let's play Snap Apple and eat curly kale. Extinguish
the flame in your hearth, light another. Welcome
the new year, there's milk in the pail. Strike a match,
light the oven, and mix up some Barnbrack. Somebody
lucky will find the gold ring. Open the whiskey and give us a toast:
to dear friends departed, let's call out their names.
Rosin the fiddle and play us a tune. Twisted steel strings,
body of maple, music the finest that Ireland can boast,
the most ruminative notes that can be coaxed.

Lake Annaghmakerrig

Guzzling the current, against it all muscle and slur
In the finland of perch, the fenland of alder, on air

That is water, on carpets of Bann stream, on hold
In the everything flows and steady go of the world.
     Seamus Heaney, "Perch"

After rain, the lake spreads out its grey water,
bolts of silk rippling in the feather-tipped breeze.
There's a chatter of rooks in the chestnuts, their
coal-black bodies, dark stars sucking light
from all that surrounds them: serrated
chestnut leaves copper and amber,
the grass below, a rug of green plush.
The rain's thin music has set the world humming,
small stanzas of fishes, slim as a whisper, are
guzzling the current, against it, all muscle and slur.

The rain returns, pocking the surface,
dimpling the skin of the fishes' grey sky.
Does its rattle and chatter bother their dreaming,
their fishy thoughts, as they fin on their way?
Or is it just static, an untuned radio, television
before cable, turning rabbit ears here and there,
trying to focus an image from snow? Hiss and trickle,
the drops hit my window, then slowly meander their way
down the pane. Everything's liquid, a watery prayer:
in the finland of perch, the fenland of alder, on air.

Then the wind picks up, whistling round corners,
flinging the rain in tight parallel lines. The glass
of the windows become a grey blur. But stretched out
before me, the grass is pure emerald,
thirstily drinking what comes from the sky: rain,
that falls on the just and unjust, the young and the old.
Out in the larger world, bicker of politics—the rich
keep on scheming, dreaming up ways to corner the market,
for a future whose currency will be in rivers. The liquid gold
that is water, on carpets of Bann stream, on hold.

Now today, the sun has turned up its high beams, casting
deep shadows on the gleaming lawn. The rooks are giddy,
drunk on the sunshine, gossiping noisily from tree
to tree; across the pale lake, tips of the rowans
are starting to flame. The Celts who once lived here believed
that the body's an echo of soul. Today, clouds swirled
like cream in blue coffee, it's hard to imagine our soon-to-be
breakdowns, the greed of the powerful, the black birds
of drought. Instead, there's the fish, rippled, empearled
in the everything flows and steady go of the world.


Barbara Crooker is the author of six books of poetry; Barbara Crooker: Selected Poems is the most recent. She has received a number of awards, including the 2004 WB Yeats Society of New York Award, the 2003 Thomas Merton Poetry of the Sacred Award, and three Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Creative Writing Fellowships. Her work has appeared in a variety of literary journals, including Common Wealth: Contemporary Poets on Pennsylvania and The Bedford Introduction to Literature. She has received fellowships from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts; the Moulin à Nef, Auvillar, France; and The Tyrone Guthrie Centre, Annaghmakerrig, Ireland.


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