Live Encounters Poetry & Writing, Volume One, December 2020.
Barbara Crooker is a poetry editor for Italian Americana, and author of nine full-length books of poetry; The Book of Kells (Cascade Books, 2018) won the Best Poetry Book 2018 Award from Poetry by the Sea and Some Glad Morning was published in 2019 (Pitt Poetry Series). Her awards include the WB Yeats Society of New York Award, the Thomas Merton Poetry of the Sacred Award, and three Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Creative Writing Fellowships. Her work appears in a variety of anthologies, including Common Wealth: Contemporary Poets on Pennsylvania, and The Bedford Introduction to Literature.
where we learned that a great roux is cooked on high,
wooden spoon making the sign for infinity until
it’s the color of peanut butter or dark bourbon. That
anything you have in the fridge is all right in a gumbo:
tasso ham, andouille sausage or fat-headed shrimp
and crawfish. If you mix in enough rice and filé powder,
it’s jambalaya. Pralines are the marriage of pecans,
brown sugar, and butter, and even the bits that stick
in the pan can sweeten your day. The Holy Trinity
is not the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but onions, peppers,
and celery. Purple, green, and gold look good together,
and you can eat foods in those colors, too. There are pairs
of beads in all the live oak trees, tangled in the Spanish moss,
left over from last year’s Mardi Gras, shining in the sun.
So meet me on neutral ground. Gimme a little somethin’,
mister. Throw in some lagniappe. Pour me a chicory coffee
with a side of beignets, and let the powdered sugar fall on my plate,
a dusting of snow on the ground.
No one wants to hear about it, the body’s slow wreckage: skin cracking
like porcelain left in the kiln too long, words that recede mid-sentence
like the tide slowly ebbing. A string of minor infirmities, I tell them
like a rosary: the need for more breath going up hills,
the clarity of events from ten years ago, while yesterday
is cloudy weather. Sleep that fails to come, the digital clock
at 3 am. Knees on the stairs, refusing to hinge. Spots on the hand
that mimic the small toad I found sunk in mud in a corner
of the vegetable garden last spring. Bunions that scream Mercy!
at the end of the day.
Whoever said, “God never gives us more than we can carry”
has never done any heavy lifting.
All roads lead to confusing traffic circles, at least in New Jersey.
If one door closes, don’t count on that window to open;
you might only get your fingers slammed.
Count neither your eggs nor your chickens.
Look on the sunny side of eggs.
If you are a liar and your pants are burning,
who will put the fire out?
Instead of saving for a rainy day, try counting the silver
raindrops as they fall.
Don’t look for the silk lining in clouds; water vapor
is difficult to weave.
Why would you want to make a purse out of a pig’s ear?
The heart is a lonely stuntman.
The corn is ripening all over Pennsylvania, fields and fields of it, slowly turning
to gold. In the weeds at the edges, red political signs sprout overnight, radiating
hate in nearly visible rays, like cartoons. Our amber waves of grain. How
have we come to this, creating others instead of neighbors? Mistrusting
anyone whose skin is different, who has an accent? And this makes me think,
who gets to decide who doesn’t belong? Who has a place at the table? Whose
mother traveled all those miles through the desert, no water, to have her baby
placed in a cage? Who builds the wall we are placing around our own hearts?
We’d been in the West this spring, lucking into
the super bloom of poppies, although I’d been
following wildflower websites for weeks—
so the luck was really that we were in
California at all. Coming off the highway,
we stumbled into bare hillsides exploding
in citrine and butterscotch, papaya and mandarin;
the sky, a flawless blue backdrop behind them,
the opposite side of the color wheel—
Back here in Virginia, the roadsides and mountains
have burst into purple: redbuds everywhere, magenta
and ultraviolet, going for broke with their glorious
inflorescence. It’s orchids! as far as the eye
can see. When this brief bloom time is over,
fascicles litter the lawn, baubles from a broken
necklace. And then, just when you thought beauty
had left you, the bare black branches break out
in hearts, simple and translucent, that will remain
steadfast, green flags flying, through summer’s
drought, the scorching sun—
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.
Walt Whitman, Song of the Open Road
Climbing the steep hill to the microwave tower,
the gravel path leading us on, I am struck dumb
by this landscape, like no place I’ve ever been before:
soft green hills, rolling seas of wheat, some enormous
sky both dwarfing us and tucking us in. My
friends are walking ahead through a field
of lupines, and there is something about this day
that makes me want to freeze the frame: three
women, two dogs, deep silence, and the troubles
of the world nowhere in sight. Only grasses
and wildflowers, bending in the wind.
And the light tread of our sneakers
trudging on the earth, the earth that is
© Barbara Crooker