Winter for a Moment Takes the Mind
{An Umbrella Special Feature}

Barbara Crooker

is the author of Radiance, a collection of poetry; her second book, Line Dance, publishes in December of 2007.  Both are from Word Press.

Her journal credits include Yankee, Smartish Pace, The Beloit Poetry Journal, Nimrod, and The Denver Quarterly. Among her many awards are three creative writing fellowships from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, the 2004 W.B. Yeats Society of New York Award, and the 2003 Thomas Merton Poetry of the Sacred Award (selected by Stanley Kunitz).

Barbara lives in rural northeastern Pennsylvania, with her husband and son, who has autism.

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Les Effets de Neige: Impressionists in Winter
Exhibit at The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC

When they tired of painting sun and wind, they turned to fog,
ice, and snow, tried to find some other way to catch the light,
to pin it down, a brooch on a dress or a nail in a barn.
How many different tubes of paint are there for white?

Camille Monet glances at us over her shoulder,
framed by the gauzy curtains, shrouded in snow.
Caillebotte’s chimneys exhale, like glamorous women
in a café. Pisarro piled snow on his rooftops, slabs of cake
thick with fondant. Sisley fell in love with shadows,
all those cool blue notes, while Gaugain forsook
the hot light of Tahiti for thatched huts
in Brittany, snow slipping from the eaves.

Soon, another cold front will move in from the west,
turning the air crystalline, and they will go at it again:
a flurry of brushstrokes, a snow squall
of new paintings shivering on their easels.

[From Line Dance (Word Tech, 2008)]


Worlds End

Wind-hush through the beeches and hemlocks,
wind-rush down the mountains, through the bare trees.
Water-music of the Loyalsock, green ice shelved
along its edges. We are chinked-up tight in a small log cabin,
roar of wood-breath in the cast-iron stove. At the pine table,
my husband peels an orange, and sweet citrus
enters the room, the sun coming out to play. No deer. No rabbits.
A cold that could nail bones. We are down
to what really matters, keeping warm, staying alive.
My son saws endless lengths of wood. We work
to keep the fire going, play Monopoly, Uno,
Chinese Checkers. Mugs of hot chocolate.
Sausage and cheese, sharp mustard. Wedges of apple.
Chunks of the forest go up in flame. Just before
bed, we walk single file down the hill to the washhouse,
our visible breath, scarf-lengths, trails out behind.
This is as dark as it gets on this planet,
as if the book of the night has just been written,
and we’re standing here open-mouthed, reading
the white-hot star-spelled stories
as if for the first time.

[From Common Wealth: Contemporary Poets Look at Pennsylvania, Spring 2007 (Penn State University Press, 2005)]


Glitter The last line comes from a lecture by art historian Helen Kwiatkowski

The monk who discovered champagne said
Come quickly, brothers, I am tasting stars,
but I think I’m sipping glitter tonight,
my blood turning fizzy, words sharp and witty,
a party going on in my mouth—

Is this what God was thinking when she riddled
the night sky, spangled the black
firmament, glammed up the dark reaches
of infinity?

I think of myself at thirty, my turn for playgroup,
six small children at the kitchen table, sheets of navy
and black construction paper, making snow scenes
with daubs of white glue and glitter sprinkled
from waxed paper cones. There was paste
in their hair, bits of paper stuck to clothes,
but each chubby cheek was dusted
in gold, and silver glinted on stubby hands—

Last month, I’d been away in the south, returned
to the dullness of January, Christmas tree down,
ornaments put away, the landscape colorless,
too cold even for birds— As the plane
made its long descent, I saw the city
spread out below, the sparkle of streetlights,
the grid of lit windows, the strung beads
of headlights and brakes, high beams piercing
the darkness in splinters of light.
Everything looks better with glitter on it.

[Originally published in Windhover, 2006]