Barbara Crooker


Listen to the audio version.

I'm sitting up here on our green hill
with my two year old son,
under the apple trees, bent & heavy with fruit.
The leaves are a green frieze,
an illumination from The Book of Hours.
He's not looking here
but down over the hill
to the pattern of traffic on the country road below.
Little cars, little cars, he points & beams.
They glint in the sun, chromium bright,
like the metal cars he clutches in his fists,
even in sleep.
Most mornings, he spends hours stacking wooden blocks,
creates intricate machines out of plastic legos,
lines up those shiny cars
in such precise rows.
And here he sits,
spellbound by the ebb & flow of traffic,
the swish & rush of cars going and coming,
pickup trucks, tractor trailers, cement mixers,
his personal litany.
I sit down beside him on the grass,
cold in this pale October light
under the green tent
and with him watch the eighteen wheelers
struggle up the hill.

* * *


Listen to the audio version.

A winter evening,
sky, the color of cobalt,
the night coming down like the lid on a pot.
On the stove, the ghosts of summer simmer:
tomatoes, garlic, basil, oregano.
Steam from the kettle rises,
wreathes the windows.
You come running when I reach for the grater,
"Help me?" you ask, reversing the pronouns,
part of your mind's disordered scramble.
Together, we hold the rind of the cheese,
scrape our knuckles on the metal teeth.
A fresh pungency enters the room.
You put your fingers in the fallen crumbs:
"Snow," you proudly exclaim, and look at me.
Three years old, nearly mute,
but the master of metaphor.
Most of the time, we speak without words.

Outside, the icy stones in the sky
glitter in their random order.
It's a night so cold, the very air freezes flesh,
a knife in the lungs, wind rushing
over the coil of the planet
straight from Siberia,
a high howl from the wolves of the steppes.
As we grate and grate, the drift rises higher.
When the family gathers together,
puts pasta in their bowls,
ladles on the simmered sauce,
you will bless each one
with a wave of your spoon:
"Snowflakes falling
all around."
You're the weatherman
of the kitchen table.
And, light as feathers,
the parmesan sprinkles down,
its newly fallen snow
gracing each plate.

* * *


Listen to the audio version.

My son and I sit at the kitchen table,
working with fractions. He doesn't see
the need to reduce, would just as soon let
12/16 or 8/24 live in their binomial splendor
than pare them down
to austere quarters or thirds.

I am thinking about literature, how it all
can be reduced to love or loss
when you get right down
to the heart.

Let's let X mark the spot.
See Spot run. Oh, Jane,
where is Puff? Where is Baby Sally?
I am Jane, in a plaid cotton dress
with a Peter Pan collar, sturdy shoes.
Now I have a child with,
as they say, global delays,
which means a kindergartner playing
in the body of a spotty adolescent.

What equation can we use
to find his place in the world? d = C/Π &Pi?

Oh, he's happy as pie when he sits
on the driveway with a map of, say,
New Jersey, plotting imaginary trips.
Take I-78 east to route 611 south …

And off we go, on our careening journey.
When death, that great subtracter, comes,
what will happen then? Only love,
the common denominator of the kitchen
table, will remain.


All of the above poems have previously appeared in Barbara Crooker's books. "Playing with Matchbox Cars" is from Selected Poems (2015), "Grating Parmisian" was originally published in the Inglis House Poetry Workshop antholgy Dancing with Cecil is from Radiance (2005), and "The Lowest Common Denominator" is from Line Dance.


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 is forthcoming in 2019 in the 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. She is the mother of a 35 year old son who has autism. .