Barbara Crooker


after the poem of the same name by Jane Hirshfield

First you were normal,
then you were not.
A healthy baby, then

a label, disabled
child: autism.
Life went on. You

were innocent; I
was not guilty.
You were my youngest;

I had two others. I knew
I was not a
"refrigerator mother."

Your first smile, at two
weeks. It wasn't
gas. Your brown eyes

steady, into mine. Later,
a cast, a caul,
as your gaze glazed

inward. First
you had language,
then you did not.

I kept a journal.
Then the pages
were blank.

First you connected.
Then you detached.
Who could we blame?

Was it the water,
was it the shots?
Something I ate?

Something I did not?
Was it the mercury?
Particles in the air?

Beware, my sisters,
beware, beware, beware.
First it was one

in twenty thousand.
Now one
in one twenty-five.

Who gets to decide?
all say:

I think
that makes no sense.

Why not study
the Amish? Those
who say no

to the needle?
What are
we doing

with these shots
in the dark?
All I know is,

you had a spark,
and now
you do not.

*First published in Verse Wisconsin.


Barbara Crooker is the author of three books of poetry, Radiance, which won the Word Press First Book Award and was a finalist for The Paterson Poetry Prize, Line Dance, which won the Paterson Award for Literary Excellence, and More (C&R Press, 2010) She is the recipient of three Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Fellowships in Literature, the 2003 Thomas Merton Poetry of the Sacred Award, the 2004 WB Yeats Society Prize, and the 2006 Rosebud Ekphrastic Poetry Award. Crooker is the mother of a 27 year old son with autism with whom she was featured recently on the PBS show "Need to Know" on the lack of services for adults with autism.