Review by Kara L.C. Jones

The White Poems
by Barbara Crooker
Published by Barnwood Press
Retail $7.00
Available from Crooker's website, click here.

A friend suggested Crooker's book to me. Words cannot tell you how grateful I am to have this book for reading and re-reading a million times over. And let me now tell you: Get this book and read it!!!

Crooker wrote this collection as her friend Judy Krol battled cancer. Judy died in 1995. These poems are the most amazing and honest look at life in the face of death, life after loss -- a model that more people, not just poets, in our society should read about and understand. Crooker's metaphors of nature, garden, eclipses, all work to show us the continued cycle of life and death, layered together, one after the other, over and over. Neither diminishes the other. It all goes together. These are some of the most beautiful -- not sappy, not la-la, not greeting card -- but honest-to-goodness, stunningly beautiful pieces I have ever read. (And I read a LOT of poetry as the editor of this zine and press!)

It's hard to know where to start because I just want you to read the whole thing. Seriously.

First the poems as a whole collection -- or one by one -- are unforgettable. But there are also these lines, here and there, throughout the book that are just "the-end-all-be-all" (if you'll forgive my goofy way of putting it). Just one of the highlights:

From "Because the Body is a Flower"

How we forget to love one another
in the tangle of everyday life.

Then there are the descriptions of a moment in time, like this from the poem titled "Hope"

Winter sunlight, fool's gold, pours in the south window
fails to warm. Weak as tea, pale as bone, insubstantial
as dust on a mantle, water falling over stone.

How many times have you sat in that very window of winter sunlight? How many times have you tried to capture it? It has never been captured in my own writing, and I stand in AWE of these lines from Crooker.

This whole collection is the delicate capture of the ever-evolving process of death and dying, of grief and life after the death of a loved one. Crooker is lyrical and true to the ache we feel in the middle of grief whirling. She doesn't deny that after a death, those left grieving must go on, but they never forget -- like this from the poem "Faith"

And because there is nothing I can do, I go out to the garden,
dig the hard March ground, turn over ice crystals in the cold dark
soil, and plant peas, little grey pebbles, tuck them in with a slap
and a chink that might be a substitute for prayer.

For in spite of everything, June will come again, and those little
pairs of leaves will make their run for it, ladder up the air.
And these peas will fill their pods with sweet green praise.

It has been a *very* long time since I read poetry where Nature is the grounding metaphor and liked it. Normally, I get so bored with the pastoral descriptions that say nothing. I thought Emily Dickinson was the only one who could do it and actually say something to me, something that has meaning, depth, resonance, truth to it. I was wrong! Barbara Crooker does it, too!

There really and truly are not words for me to say how this collection affects and effects. So instead of fumbling here, I'm just going to share the poem "In the Late Summer Garden" with you and say, once again, *buy this book and read it!!!*

In the Late Summer Garden
by Barbara Crooker

Green beans lose their adolescent slenderness,
broaden in plump pods. One pumpkin swells,
fills a corner with its orange lamp.
At night skunks slink in to dig for grubs;
in the morning we see their small excavations.
My friend's cancer has grown, spread to her femur
and liver. Everything that can be pruned has now been taken.
Tomatoes spark starry yellow blossoms, hope against hope.
Some will turn into hard green marbles, but the sun
has moved past equinox, days shorten and cool.
My son is learning his multiplication tables;
he flips flash cards at the maple table.
Numbers multiply like random cells. I am learning
the simpler but harder facts of subtraction.

After the first frost has done its damage, I will rip out
the tangled vines, blackened marigolds, basil, cosmos
until nothing remains of the once green jungle.
I will turn over the soil, smell dark earth rise
like a river, work in compost and humus, believing
in the resurrection. Every year I feel my tap root sink in
deeper. My friend is learning how to let go,
to stop making plans.

Today she sits in the sun with a cup of coffee,
black and rich, stirs in sugar and cream.
There is no point in denying the body's hunger.
She spreads thick butter and honey on toast.
She would like time to stop now, the sky, blue as radium,
the hills, bolts of calico, red & yellow, gold & green.

Like a late maple leaf, burning in crimson,
she's hanging on with everything she's got.

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