Barbara Crooker, "Women Picking Olives, 1889"



               —Vincent Van Gogh

          The oil that is extracted here from the most beautiful olives in the world replaces butter.  I had great misgivings about this substitution. But I have tasted it in sauces and, truthfully, there is nothing better.  Jean Racine, “Lettres d’Uzès, 1661”


And there’s nothing better than old friends; no substitutes will do.

These women in their plain colored dresses remind me of what I’ve lost, 

the friends who are not here.  There’s nothing rational about this, 

why a woman on a ladder, another reaching into the trees, a third 

with a pannier would speak to me of loss, but there are spaces 

between the branches where the dove-colored sky bleeds through, 

and the path through the orchard runs like a river, liquid brush strokes 

of clay, the field ochre on both sides.   The dead no longer need to feed 

the body, decide between oil and butter for their bread.  They can slip 

between the next world and ours if they want to, on the breath of the wind.  

There’s a ladder in this painting, but it doesn’t reach to heaven.  Instead, 

it’s the divide, the uncrossable bridge, the message still on the answering

machine.  Above the orchard, the sky is full of ashes of roses:  parentheses, 

ellipses, things we hold onto, even as they slip away.



Barbara Crooker's poems have appeared in magazines such as Green Mountains Review, Hollins Critic, Tar River Poetry Review, Smartish Pace, Beloit Poetry Journal, Nimrod, Denver Quarterly, Tampa Review, Poetry International, and The Christian Century. She is the author of ten chapbooks, two of which won prizes in national competitions: Ordinary Life won the ByLine Chapbook competition in 2001 and Impressionism won the Grayson Books Chapbook competition in 2004. Radiance, her first book, won the 2005 Word Press First Book competition. Line Dance came out in 2008 from Word Press and won the 2009 Paterson Award for Literary Excellence. More was published by C&R Press in 2010, and Gold was published in 2013 by Cascade Books.