Barbara Crooker


Widow sounds like without.

—Janet McCann


Empty as a whelk scoured by the tide.
The cold O of the full moon.

Hollow as a blown egg.
A lemon scooped of pulp.

The minus side of the equation.
The heartless stars.

Ashes in the grate.
Alone. Alone. Alone.


Pain—has an Element of Blank—
It cannot recollect
When it began—or if there were
A time when it was not—

—Emily Dickinson


Grief has an element of void
It cannot recollect
when it began—or if there were
a time when it was not—

It’s there upon awakening

It’s in the bed at night
Not separate from breathing
It pulses with the heart—

And now I can’t remember

my life before it came
when love was ripped asunder
when weather turned to rain—

There must have been a garden
There must have been a walk
Someone who looked into my eyes
as if the sun could stop—

Now Grief sits at my table
Now Grief lies in my bed
And cruelest to remember?
It took away all hope—


Apple Blossoms

—for Richard


After a long winter.
when loneliness gathered
with the cold,

and darkness seemed interminable,
down in the orchard you planted
the apple trees begin

to unfold their silky
pink and white fans, coy
as geishas, releasing

their sweet scent
in the now-softening air.
You will not return,

but the apples will,
red, round, warm.


Bleeding Heart

Dicentra spectabilis
Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken?

—Tina Turner

Little pink hearts dangle gracefully
from arching stems, bob and dance
in the soft May wind. Each one
is identical to the next one in line,
as if a child has cut them out of folded
construction paper. And what a construct;
love, that is. Remember in the cartoons
how a throbbing heart would leap out
of Olive Oyl’s chest aiming like a dart
at Popeye? Remember how you left
your apartment after the first night
we spent together and came back
with a fistful of wildflowers from down
by the pond? These dripping hearts,
each with a white tear on the end,
bend and sieve the air, this second
spring that you’re not here.


Mertensia Virginica

And now it’s time for the Virginia bluebells
to take center stage, their shy sky-blue flowers
slowly opening from tight pink buds into full-
throated song. If I listen closely, I might
even hear them ring in the wind. The fiddly
ferns are uncurling behind them,
little bass clefs. Hyacinths and daffodils
are all but forgotten until next year,
their inevitable return. Gloria. It’s not
that sorrow has retreated, left on the outgoing
tide, but rather, that this sweet breeze
has kissed me awake again, reminding me
that I’ve got a crush on Spring, and listen,
it’s reciprocal . . . .

Barbara Crooker is author of twelve chapbooks and ten full-length books of poetry, including Some Glad Morning, Pitt Poetry Series, University of Pittsburgh Poetry Press, longlisted for the Julie Suk award from Jacar Press, The Book of Kells, which won the Best Poetry Book of 2019 Award from Poetry by the Sea, and Slow Wreckage (Grayson Books, 2024). 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.

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