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.

Two Poems by Jennifer L Freed


pulls you close.
You know it too well
to think you can live without it.
You’ve learned
it is a chair that will hold you
up and ask nothing
of you but to live
with it. And so you live

through this spring day, drifting
from bureau to bed,
table to desk, touching
the shirt, the pillow, the cup,
the book; looking
out the window,
your hand on the windowsill, the sun
on your hand. Here is the view
so changed from yesterday. Here

is the blue of the veins in your wrist.
You can do nothing
and are grateful
there is nothing you need to do.
You let yourself sink
into your chair, let
the chair
hold you.



Some days, she chooses not
to eat.
She needs to let absence
fill her body, to move with it, know
that she can.

On the table, fresh strawberries, radiant
in their blue bowl.

Without meals, extra pockets of time
unfold. She turns toward
books, sketch pads, longer walks
with the dog. Hunger swells, fades, swells and fades

By night, stomach growling, she feels surprisingly
strong. She looks forward
to morning, when, standing at the counter, she will inhale
the scent of toasting bread.


Jennifer L Freed lives in Massachusetts. Her poetry has appeared in Atlanta Review, Atticus Review, Rust + Moth, West Trestle Review, The Worcester Review, Zone 3, and other journals. Her poem sequence “Cerebral Hemorrhage” was awarded the 2020 Samuel Washington Allen Prize (New England Poetry Club). She is the author of a chapbook, These Hands Still Holding, a finalist in the 2013 New Women’s Voices chapbook contest, and of a full length collection, When Light Shifts (Kelsay, 2022), based on the aftermath of her mother’s stroke.