Barbara Crooker is the author of nine books of poetry: Radiance, winner of the 2005 Word Press First Book Award and finalist for the 2006 Paterson Poetry Prize; Line Dance ( 2008), winner of the 2009 Paterson Award for Excellence in Literature; More (2010); Gold (2013); Small Rain (2014); Barbara Crooker: Selected Poems (2015), Les Fauves (2017), The Book of Kells (2018), winner of the 2018 Best Poetry Book Award, Poetry by the Sea; and Some Glad Morning (2019), Pitt Poetry Series, University of Pittsburgh Poetry Press. Her poems appear in a variety of literary journals, including The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Century, Christianity and Literature, Sojourners, Seminary Ridge Review, Rock & Sling, Assisi, Ruminate, Perspectives, Literature and Belief, The Cresset, Tiferet, America and anthologies, including Imago Dei: Poems from Christianity and Literature, Good Poems American Places, Looking for God in All the Right Places, and the Bedford Introduction to Literature. She has won a number of awards, including the 2003 Thomas Merton Poetry of the Sacred Prize, and three Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Fellowships in Literature. Her work has been read on The Writer’s Almanac, and she has been an invited reader at The Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival, Poetry by the Sea, the SoCal Poetry Festival, Poetry @ Round Top, The Festival of Faith and Writing, and the Library of Congress.
THE FIVE SENSES: MEDITATION IN A CHAPEL
The cold scroll of stones.
Traceries of tortured iron.
Slices of glass: Chartres blue,
blood of the Crusaders, aquamarine.
Dazzling as the press-on plastic jewels
loved by little princesses. Chips
of kaleidoscope glass.
Is there a scent more heavenly than bread
baking, yeast doing its doubling act,
that magic trick of turning flour, water, salt,
most basic of elements, into crust and crumb,
something that makes butter lose its cool edges,
What the mouth desires is salty and sweet,
crunchy and soft at the same time,
a marriage of opposites whispering both.
What the ears, with their whorls and scrolls
require, may not be words with their multiple
meanings, content and context, babble and squawk,
but their opposite, silence. The deep quiet of a church
with no people, a street with no traffic, a café
with just the kiss of an espresso machine. A garden
with a trickle of bird song. Rain on the roof.
Cool wood in the pews, rough hew in the stones,
smooth glass in the windows. Wings
of a butterfly powdering fingers. The clasp
of a baby’s fist, the sweet certainty of security.
The rough texture of doubt.
I never learned to tell one from another—
swamp, field, song, vesper—all scraps
of drab: rust, dun, buff, tan. Some streaky-breasted,
some not. We hear the flutter of wings, look up,
then yawn, ho hum, a sparrow. No rush
for binoculars. Like the poor, they are always with us.
Look at them flick and flit in this dry meadow of foxtail,
switchgrass, goldenrod; every leaf, stem, and seedhead
burnished in the dying light. Maybe they are the only angels
we get in this life. But the very hairs on our head are numbered,
and the father knows them all by name. Each sparrow, too, has a song—
no flashy cardinal selling cheer, no sky-blue jay's ironic squawk,
no eponymous chicka-dee-dee-dee. Just us, the unnoticed, gleaning
what others have left behind, and singing for all we're worth, teetering
on a bit of bracken at the edge of a wild field.
WALKING WITH JESUS
in the Blue Ridge Mountains, eating corn fritters
and okra, passing the black-eyed peas. He loves
redbirds and kudzu, all that green tenaciousness.
He’s not so much of a fan of men in white sheets,
gun racks, the Stars and Bars, but he’s Jesus, so
he loves them anyway. The gospel of football
eludes him, but he sure likes to tailgate. He tells
me that all the commandments are really
about sitting with your neighbors on a wide
front porch, eating peach pie, watching the sun
go down. Why are you still going on about sin
and salvation, he asks me, when you have all this,
right here, right now?
BOOK OF KELLS
October 19, 2013: folio 253v-254r
The text of the day is open to Luke, chapter sixteen,
verse ten. The initial N, made up of blonde men
facing off, grappling and tugging at each other’s beards,
becomes the first word in the section that warns us
that no servant can serve two masters. Irony intended.
Later, in beautiful insular majuscule, the open letters filled
in red and blue, we read You cannot serve both god and money.
I wish that these words would rise off the page, a swarm of bees,
become honey to spread on our daily bread. When the scribes
made an error, in a world before white-out, the correct word
was inserted in a box of red dots. Aren’t there words today
we’d like to amend like that? In this dimly lit room, circling
glass cases, I return to view the same vellum over again.
Twelve hundred years later, clear as the day it was written,
I think of Henri Nouwen: The word is born in silence,
and silence is the deepest response to the word.
One set of scholars believes the Book of Kells
was created to honor the 200th anniversary
of the death of Colum Cille (St. Columba).
In the Book of Kells, messengers are both seen and unseen:
framing the Virgin at the Nativity in all four corners;
the infant Christ, dressed as a small man, fully clothed,
on his mother’s knee. The angel in the upper left
seems to be saying Oh, my God. What have you done?
Do you really think this was a good idea?
The one on the upper right seems resigned. You want
to send him where? While the two on the bottom, crowded
behind Mary’s chair, seem dwarfed by the occasion, relegated
to the corners. But they’re always there. I like the angels
on the arm of the chi in the great Chi Rho; you have to tilt
the page to see them, unflagrant, hovering above.
And some angels are almost hidden, like the one
in folio 48r, hands outstretched in prayer, framed
in the diamond-shaped O of Omnia. I wonder what
it would have been like to live then, in the time
of Colum Cille, when angels might have been hovering
in the breathable air?
"SPARROWS" was previously published in Some Glad Morning (Pitt Poetry Series,
"WALKING WITH JESUS" was previously published in Les Fauves (C&R Press, 2018).
"BOOK OF KELLS" and "ANGELS" were previously published in The Book of Kells
(Cascade Books, 2018).
Catherine Joan Devadason
Catherine Joan Devadason hopes to bring joy to those who read her poetry and eat her bakes. She is working towards opening a poetry cafe one day. Her poetry has been featured and performed at Playeum: iOpener 2019. She has collaborated with Diverse Abilities Dance Collective to produce poem and dance performances (Speaking with Hands, 2019; Down the Rabbit Hole, 2020).
listen to the breeze
he, the birds
the trees yet to grow
you, the sun
shine around town
lead the land
key to time
no bone will take us
take a stand
help the poor
to a better forever on the side
follow light lit up
from piles of rock
rolled away the vault
empty if we believe
our hearts grow
spirit trees planted
living hard forward
if without stars
the knife cuts
snow keeps falling
bring together people sounds
talking the day away
to the table we come
roast duck shepherd pie salmon roll roast potato ham
hot chocolate leg of log cake cinnamon cake chocolate cake gingerbread cookies
presents under tree
stockings hanging near the fireplace
stories are told
songs sung ,
we fall asleep