Four Poems by Barbara Crooker


is empty, a room with no windows.
The lifeless moon in a bleak sky.
The hollow in your throat I used to kiss.
A deep well, without a wish.
Where there used to be a couple,
the deep division of negative numbers.
The unused chair at the kitchen table.
The vast Sahara of one side of the bed.
The air in my hand as I reach out for yours.
The shape of my mouth when grief
sneaks up and takes me unaware.
The heartless dawn with you still gone.


It takes the form of ‘How are you?’ or “How are you doing?’
        Dr. Joyce Brothers

Pretend you have hearing loss.
Bend down and tie your double-knotted
shoes. Ignore the question; instead, ask one—
people love to talk about themselves.
Don’t even think about how you really are,
which is lost. Bereft. Adrift. A shell
tumbling in the tide. A crust of bread,
not the whole loaf. An empty glass,
the residue of wine. The real answer:
still here, though I wish I was gone.



I no longer make fruitcake—those garish
cherries, sticky chunks of glacéed pineapple,
candied peel—snug in their bed of dark spiced
cake. No one but you ever liked it. And I’m not
capable of walking in the ice-crusted woods
to chop down (really, saw) a fragrant tree,
wrestle it on top of the car, then lug it inside,
water it daily on hands and knees. Instead,
an artificial tree, pre-lit with tiny lights,
does its best to brighten these dark nights.
Where I sit in front of the fire, alone,
with my solitary glass of wine. The stocking
you sewed for me the first year we were
together hangs empty. As does yours,
felt cut-outs sewn by your mother when you
were two. There are no presents to wrap
or gifts to hide. The cookies are unbaked.
Roasts untrimmed. Just the silence of the snow,
the flame from a single candle. The longest
night of the year.



Those were the words I’d often used when writing condolence
cards. But when I lost you, my beloved, I found I’d also lost
my memories. Not all of them, but the order of things:
when we met for dancing that night at the bar, was it before or after
the spaghetti dinner? What was the name of the restaurant in Lyon
that brought us a bowl of mousse au chocolat big enough to swim in,
and said, “Help yourself?” In which park in Paris did we find the horse
chestnut now resting in the shadow box? We used to joke, on our travels,
that together we made up a five-year-old. Who am I now, as I try
to traverse this difficult world without you?


Barbara Crooker is author of twelve chapbooks and nine full-length books of poetry. Some Glad Morning, Pitt Poetry Series, University of Pittsburgh Poetry Press, longlisted for the Julie Suk award from Jacar Press, is her latest. Her previous collection, The Book of Kells, won the Best Poetry Book of 2019 Award from Poetry by the Sea. Her other awards include: Grammy Spoken Word Finalist, the WB Yeats Society of New York Award, the Thomas Merton Poetry of the Sacred Award, and three Pennsylvania Council fellowships in literature. Her work appears in literary journals and anthologies, including The Bedford Introduction to Literature.