Barbara Crooker is the author of six books of poetry: Radiance, winner of the 2005 Word Press First Book Award and finalist for the 2006 Paterson Poetry Prize; Line Dance ( 2008), winner of the 2009 Paterson Award for Excellence in Literature; More (2010); Gold (2013); Small Rain (2014); and Barbara Crooker: Selected Poems (2015). Her writing has received a number of awards, including the 2004 WB Yeats Society of New York Award (Grace Schulman, judge), the 2003 Thomas Merton Poetry of the Sacred Award (Stanley Kunitz, judge), and three Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Creative Writing Fellowships. Her work appears in a variety of literary journals and anthologies, including Common Wealth: Contemporary Poets on Pennsylvania and The Bedford Introduction to Literature. She has been a fellow at the VCCA fifteen times since 1990, plus the Moulin à Nef, Auvillar, France and The Tyrone Guthrie Centre, Annaghmakerrig, Ireland. Garrison Keillor has read twenty-eight of her poems on The Writer’s Almanac, and she has read her poetry all over the country, from Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine, including The Calvin Conference of Faith and Writing, The Austin International Poetry Festival, Glory Days: A Bruce Springsteen Symposium, and the Library of Congress.
CEREMONIES OF GRIEF
And where you are is where you are not.
T. S. Eliot, “East Coker”
for Clare Reidy
What was it that happened in the clearing,
the one you wrote about in your last poem?
Was there a sudden clarity, a light,
or did a greater darkness prevail?
You’d asked, What will I become?
Another question with no answer.
What will become of us, you didn’t
ask, stranded here without you?
At your funeral Frank slid into
the pew next to me, then asked,
Are you ready? I thought he meant
for your death, but no, he wanted to know
if I’d bought my plot yet, that bed with
green sheets and hard white pillows.
I wanted to say we’re too young,
but I know these will be the gatherings
we’ll be going to now, not weddings
or baptisms. Today, I’m down
by the creek, a scatter of purple
violets rising from heart-shaped leaves.
The stream sings its nonsense
song, running from here to there, always
in a hurry, moving through the clearing.
Nothing stops it. It keeps going on.
Nothing was ever good enough to earn
his praise, not the report cards with their A’s
lined up in a row or the SAT scores well over
the national average. There was always something
more, and I came up short. So many years
later, and still it’s his voice I hear in every rejection
slip, every grant I don’t win, all those fellowships
turned down. How old do we have to be
before we’re free of the past, slipped loose
like a boat from its mooring? How long should
I work on a poem, letting word after word
run through my fingers like a brightly-colored
school of fish? The gift has been to learn how
to discard, looking for the one that sings. To
learn patience, like a heron on a rock, cultivate
the art of stillness until that moment
when a silver glint turns into a fish. In the shallow
water of memory, I am turning a stone in my palm,
looking for the perfect one that will arc and skip,
send out ripples that will widen from the point
of impact, until you can no longer see them
when they reach the farthest shore.