“The house light turns everything golden, and even though we know what’s coming, the next act, we start to believe we can stay here forever in the amber spotlight, that night’s black velvet curtain will never fall.” (“Vaudeville” by Barbara Crooker)
Barbara Crooker’s latest poetry book, Gold (Cascade Books, 2013) has been a godsend these last few months.
As I try to navigate the failing health of my parents and the dread of impending loss, Barbara’s poems have come to the rescue again and again — offering comfort, hope, and affirmation. Gold focuses on the life-altering experience of losing one’s mother; Barbara recounts her mother’s long illness, her death, and the aftermath of coping with grief.
These deeply felt, finely wrought lyric-narrative poems are sad but never maudlin or depressing, personal yet universal, with stirring emotional truths that pierce the heart.
I love how she shines an incandescent light on the fragility and strength of the mother-daughter relationship, inviting us into those tender moments of grace where she is child-turned-caregiver, the child yet asking, “How can she be gone?”
If you’re already a fan of Barbara’s work, you’ll bask once again in her radiant images and the beautiful cadences of every line. Autumn sets the stage for this eloquent elegiac rumination echoing Frost’s, “Nothing gold can stay.”
The collection also includes poems about Ireland, aging and the body, the difficulties and joys of love in long-term marriages, the loss of friends, and several ekphrastic poems on paintings by Gorky, Manet, Matisse, O’Keeffe and others.
In “Peeps” we get a glimpse of Barbara’s mother’s feisty spirit and a poignant family moment where sweet tempers sadness.
A few words from Barbara:
When my mother decided she needed Assisted Living, we moved her down here to be closer to us, and I became her caregiver, although she lived in a senior residence (and then a nursing home at the end). I went over daily, and always brought Peeps. She’d loved them before, but I live in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley, and Peeps are made in Bethlehem, so we have more varieties than you see in other parts of the country. We have things like Peeps cooking contests (chefs from area restaurants competing for “best dessert made with Peeps”), Peeps Easter Hat decorating contests, Peeps Diorama contests, and–the biggie–on New Year’s Eve, a giant Peeps comes down at midnight!
Peeps, though, are seasonal creatures (why no red, white and blue Peeps for Memorial Day and 4th of July, I ask?), and so when they disappeared after Easter, I mail-ordered a case, so that she’d always have them.
After she passed, I mailed packets of Peeps to family and friends who weren’t able to be with us at the end. You’ll notice I’d mentioned hospice; initially, our plans were to take Mom’s ashes back to her home church in upstate NY for a memorial. But by the time she died, at ninety, not only were all of her friends gone, but the minister was gone as well. So we held her services in my garden, which she loved, with the hospice chaplain. I can’t say enough good words about hospice. . . .
by Barbara Crooker
In those last few months my mother didn’t want to eat,
this woman who made everything from scratch,
and who said of her appetite, I eat like a bricklayer.
Now she listlessly stirred the food around her plate,
sometimes picking up a piece of chicken,
then looking at it as if to say, What is this? Wouldn’t
put it in her mouth. But Peeps! Marshmallow Peeps!
Spun sugar and air, molded in clever forms: a row
of ghosts, a line of pumpkins, a bevy of bunnies,
a flock of tiny chicks, sometimes in improbable colors
like purple and blue . . . One day, she turned over
her tray, closed her mouth, looked up at me
like a defiant child, and said, I’m not eating this stuff.
Where’s my Peeps?
When it was over, the hospice chaplain said some words
in my back yard, under the wisteria arch. The air was full
of twinkling white butterflies, in love with the wild
oregano. Blue-green fronds of Russian sage waved
in front of the Star Gazer lilies, and a single finch
lit on a pink coneflower, and stayed. When there were
no more words or tears, I ripped open the last packet
of Peeps, tore their little marshmallow bodies,
their sugary blood on my hands, and gave a piece
to each of us. It melted, grainy fluff
on our tongues, and it was good.
Posted by permission of the author, copyright © 2013 Barbara Crooker. All rights reserved.
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If you can purchase only one poetry book this Fall, make it this one. The sheer lyricism of Barbara’s verse is breathtaking, and you’ll fully appreciate the power of poetry to heal, console and uplift.
♥ Find out more about Barbara’s work at her Official Website
♥ Click here to purchase GOLD and to read six more sample poems.
“[Barbara] is the bird that stays to sing throughout the night when all the others have left for the winter.” ~ Paul J. Willis
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Jen is hosting today’s Poetry Friday Roundup at Teach Mentor Texts. Enjoy all the wonderful poetic offerings being served up in the blogosphere and have a Happy Weekend!
Copyright © 2013 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.