Barbara Crooker

The Bossy Letter R


            (phrase from my son, David, who has autism)

The bossy lette
r R will turn you crooked,

just when you were sure your goose
was merely cooked.  Rouse you
from sleep, ramp up the music, rev
the engine.  Sentence you
to hard labor.   Dice your zucchini
into ratatouille.  Reductive.
Not afraid to be ridiculous.
It can turn picks to pricks, pigs
to prigs, bees to beers.  Don't look
for recompense.  Recreational
drugs optional.  Add rum.
Relax and roll with it.  But
beware; on some dark night, it'll
hot wire your cat, tuning its motor,
start it turning:  rrrrrrrrrrrr.


Live or Evil, Rats or Star


What happened when you renamed meander?
Did the sauce fail to thicken in the kitchen?
I thought if I refused to abridge my grievance,
the brigade would come for me.  You may think
there are no taxes in Texas, but you're wrong.

I'd trade all my atlases for one small sack
of sea salt.  Who rates our tears?
The more I grieved, the more my life diverged.
Hush.  Slow owls are sleeping in trees.
Who doesn't have a hatred of dearth?

I use a slate to write my tales, this prose,
while spores of mildew scatter widely.  Do
you know Rye, New York?  If you juggle
sacred, you'll get scared.  Deal
can lead to lade or dale.  Or end up

dead as lead.  It's all in the toss,
the tumble:  straw or warts, pins
or snip, peek or keep.  The tide can turn
to edit, in the blink of an eye.  Which
will you choose:  heart or earth?

The Paper Clip


Two u's, standing at attention.

A couple of mouths

with a jones for paper.

A thin slip of twisted

wire.  A bend in the silver,

brass, or candy striped creek.

Not hard-wired

for permanence

like the staple,

the brisk click


one sheet to another,

the paper clip's more

for dating, casual

one night stands. 

Although afterwards,

sometimes a mark

remains, a faint scar,

a thumb nail indentation,

of what once was,

and now is, no more.



The Last Painting


            Arshile Gorky Retrospective, Philadelphia Museum of Art


I'd always seen his name wrong, Ashile, not Arshile,

missed the "r completely, didn't see the demarcation

of its black arc breaking up the greasy softness of "ah" and "sh."

I didn't know about the studio fire that destroyed ten years' work,

the cancer that smoldered in his gut, the marriage that went up

in flames. So he did a painting called "Agony," reds flickering

into browns, then a series of smudged grisailles: "Charred Beloved."

About art, he said, "I don't like the word "finish," painted "The Limit"

just before he reached it, took the rope, its oval mouth like one

of his biomorphic shapes, placed it around his neck, stepped off the chair.

Barbara Crooker's books are Radiance, winner of the 2005 Word Press First Book Award and finalist for the 2006 Paterson Poetry Prize; Line Dance (Word Press, 2008), winner of the 2009 Paterson Award for Excellence in Literature; and More (C&R Press, 2010). Her poems appear in a variety of literary journals and many anthologies, including Good Poems for Hard Times (Garrison Keillor, editor)(Viking Penguin) and the Bedford Introduction to Literature.



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