Barbara Crooker

Late Night Martinis
Out beyond the ambient light, glass
of gin, rumor of vermouth, a few olives,
we’re sitting on black wrought iron lawn chairs,
talking poetry & friendship, love & loss.
Above us, the indifferent stars glitter
cold light. A chorus of coyotes
calls from the woods. Supposedly,
we come from spindrift and stardust.
No doubt about the dust to which we will
return. Those stars are set in their patterns:
there’s a ladle, a dragon, a celestial belt.
We wobble in our orbits, unsure and alone.
Will there be a gathering by the river
or a blank nothing at the end of the day?
My long-stemmed glass, which is now
half-empty, seems to me half-full.


Driving on the back roads, snow-covered fields rolling out
on either side, like the gauze that covers my foot and ankle,
the wound that just won’t heal. An abscess like an absence,
this blank landscape, the black alphabet of trees. It’s too cold
to be out; small animals huddle in burrows or shelter
in hedgerows. Too cold for most birds to be flying.
Already, the losses adding up: my cousin’s husband
who didn’t wake up; high school friends, two of them,
who’ve walked down that long corridor; the friend I talked to
every week who suddenly couldn’t breathe in the middle
of the night. It’s the season of no return, no coming back
with the green grass and crocuses doing their hocus-pocus
with purple and gold scarves. No, this is what isn’t:
the unreturned phone call, the unanswered text,
the unwritten email, the empty chair. This is it, the last
inning, the final quarter, the must-be-met deadline
for my age group, the actuarial clock ticking.
Every field, every hollow, fills up with snow.


If, as Mary Oliver says, my job is loving the world, then today
it is easy: a bright sun, low humidity, high clouds
lightly frilling the sky, which seems to be stretching
into tomorrow. In the garden, tomatoes are slowly
fattening into redness, eggplants are sunning
their purple rumps, heavy on their stems, and melons
are swelling, fat with juice. Everything in the process
of becoming. At the sugar feeder, hummingbirds
dart and whir in a busy blur, and the perennials
are going at it for all they’re worth: blue-green Russian sage,
a river of golden daylilies, white ruffled phlox, magenta
loosestrife. At dusk, swallows slice the air
before the bats come out. With all of this, why are we anxious? 
Why is it difficult to share? Here, sweetness gathers. 
It’s summer, full to the brim. But out there, brassy politicians
are trumpeting the unthinkable: nuclear brinkmanship.
Drought and famine. Cities reduced to stones. The rising
seas. How can we balance scarcity and surplus, greed
and gratitude?  Why aren't we amazed by everything we have?

Barbara Crooker is the author of nine full-length books of poetry, most recently, Some Glad Morning (Pitt Poetry Series, University of Pittsburgh Poetry Press, 2019), as well as nine chapbooks. She serves as a poetry editor for Italian-Americana. Her awards include 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 Common Wealth: Contemporary Poets on Pennsylvania; The Bedford Introduction to Literature; and Nasty Women: An Unapologetic Anthology of Subversive Verse. Her work has been featured on The Writer’s Almanac, The Slowdown with Tracy K. Smith,  and Ted Kooser’s American Life in Poetry.



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