friday feast: “peeps” by barbara crooker

“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.

goldcoverAs 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?”

Nana's 90 023crop
Barbara with her mother Isabelle on her 90th birthday, two months before she passed away.

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. . . .

peepsflower
via Chickory

PEEPS
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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goldcover

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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poetryfriday180Jen 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!

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Copyright © 2013 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

48 thoughts on “friday feast: “peeps” by barbara crooker

  1. Oh, thank you for this Jama. I found the place I needed to be today. I love Barbara’s work and am going to order GOLD now – for me, and to share with a friend. So beautiful. Much love to you during this time. xo

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  2. The book sounds like something I would very much love to have, Jama. What a wonderful thing to honor someone’s choices at the close of her life. Barbara, if you are reading, I too cannot say enough good things about hospice-incredible kindness and expertise as well! Thanks to both of you!

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    1. Losing loved ones, illness, caregiving, coping — all things we must all face at some point. Bravo to Barbara for giving voice to our fears, trials, and concerns. Glad to hear you had a good experience with hospice too.

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  3. Oh Jama, that is a time I dread so much. I will get this book and wish you peace at this difficult time. My parents live half way around the world. The thought of losing them suddenly scares me.

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  4. Barbara (and Jama), I love this poem! It reminds me of one I wrote about my mother shortly before she died, when she would not eat. Barbara’s poem is full of love, joy, and grace . . . rich with the radiance that informs all of her work. Bless you, Jama, for sharing this . . . and you, Barbara, for writing it. I already have her new book “Gold” and love all the poems in it!

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    1. Radiance is definitely a good way to describe her work. GOLD is amazing, as you already know. Thanks for dropping by today, Penny. Have a lovely weekend!

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  5. Thanks so much for sharing this book, Jama–definitely on my to-read-with-a-big-box-of-kleenex list. I love how Barbara has captured this difficult journey (which brought back memories of feeding my mom ice cream on the last days of her life.) I wish you strength in the coming days.

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    1. It seems people crave sweets in their last days. Sorry to hear you also lost your mother. You’ve already walked through that door and I’m sure Barbara’s poems will resonate with you even more.

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  6. this poem reminded me of the idea that the elderly return to a more childlike state or what is perceived as a more childlike state – of being cared for instead of caring for everyone else AND eating children’s peeps seems just about right..

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  7. A last supper; airy little bodies and spun sugar blood, broken and shared out, for remembrance.

    Peeps. Who knew they could be beautiful.
    Thanks for sharing this, Jama-j. ♥

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  8. Thanks for sharing this, Jama! I’m glad you found this book and it has provided such comfort. I will look for it, too, as my mother is declining these days. Peeps may be a comfort food, but Barbara’s poems are comforting words that linger. =)

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  9. Considering the subject of the title, this is such a powerful poem! Very much appreciate you sharing this , Jama. I wonder if she deliberately evoked imagery of The Last Supper with those last lines, or if it’s coincidental?

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  10. This post, too, is golden… like peeps, like Barbara’s poetry, like the years that arrive too quickly for our parents and ultimately for ourselves. Thanks, Jama. Sending love your way.

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  11. This poem evoked so much – humor, love, compassion, loss, grief, and acceptance. I am going to order this book right now, Jama, and I thank you for sharing Barbara’s gifts with us today.

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  12. Oh Jama, this made my eyes water. This is the first time I heard of ‘peeps’ – though I can imagine its sugary-goodness being comfort food to grieving souls. I remembered sharing Frost’s “Nothing Gold Can Stay” to my boss whose mother was also going through surgery at the time. I hope poetry continues to bring you blessings and peace. My thoughts are with you, beautiful.

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    1. Thanks, Myra — Peeps are so ubiquitous here that I was surprised you hadn’t tried any — you are such a world traveler after all.🙂 If you like marshmallows you’ll like Peeps. Appreciate your good thoughts and wishes.

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  13. Echoing thanks to you, Jama, for this post and to Barbara for sharing such a strong yet painfully tender poem. I’m freshly back from a lovely (and too infrequent) visit with my own mother – thankful we can still put work on a puzzle together and walk on the beach, even if she takes it a little more slowly these days.

    Sending all best wishes to you – life is indeed full of “improbable colors.” xo

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  14. A beautiful post and a new book on my wish list. My 93-year-old granny eats fun size Milky Way candy bars in the middle of the night but is never hungry for meals! I can relate to the Peeps!

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    1. I do hope you pick up one of her books soon, Liz. She’s one of my favorite contemporary poets — I’ve featured many of her other poems here too.🙂

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  15. **tears**
    A hug for you, and thanks for recommending this book. My mother is in her last years (still doing well enough to be independent, knock wood/cross fingers for more years of that), but at some point, I will surely need Barbara’s poems to help me through.

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