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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

American Life in Poetry: ‘Grief’ by Barbara Crooker

By Ted Kooser U.S. poet laureate, 2004-06

Barbara Crooker, who lives in Pennsylvania, has become one of this column’s favorite poets. We try to publish work that a broad audience of readers can understand and, we hope, may be moved by, and this writer is very good at that. Here’s an example from her collection “Gold” from Cascade Books.


is a river you wade in until you get to the other side.

But I am here, stuck in the middle, water parting

around my ankles, moving downstream

over the flat rocks. I’m not able to lift a foot,

move on. Instead, I’m going to stay here

in the shallows with my sorrow, nurture it

like a cranky baby, rock it in my arms.

I don’t want it to grow up, go to school, get married.

It’s mine. Yes, the October sunlight wraps me

in its yellow shawl, and the air is sweet

as a golden Tokay. On the other side,

there are apples, grapes, walnuts,

and the rocks are warm from the sun.

But I’m going to stand here,

growing colder, until every inch

of my skin is numb. I can’t cross over.

Then you really will be gone.

Poem copyright 2013 by Barbara Crooker, from “Gold” (Cascade Books, 2013) and is reprinted by permission of the author and publisher. American Life in Poetry is supported by the Poetry Foundation and the English department at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. We do not accept unsolicited submissions.