“November” and “Blue Christmas”

NOVEMBER 2012: POETRY

by Barbara Crooker

NOVEMBER

This tufted titmouse at the feeder, all perky peak and bright eyes,
is the mirror image of the sky overhead, breast of gray feathers,
orange smear of sun going down behind the clouds. Even though
the oily sunflower seed is low, he keeps coming back, ever
hopeful. The leaves have flown from most of the trees; it’s
November, season of less. A long freight rattles south,
pulls the cold air behind it. The flowers have folded
their bright tents, gone back to the darkness from where
they came. Even the light leaves easily, as night closes
the cover of its dull book, draws the curtains, lowers the shades.

BLUE CHRISTMAS
—the name of a relatively new Advent service for mourners

This has been a dark year, when the arm of the angel of death has grown sore
from swinging his heavy scythe, eleven sharp strokes in my circle of friends.
And now it’s December, when the rest of the world glitters like sugar,
when stores drip tinsel and ribbons, and the air in the mall is thick
with carols. For those who mourn, the sky is the color of soot, and white
lights hung on pines do nothing to dispel the gloom. The year burns down
to ashes, calendar pages go up in flakes of char, the reverse of birds. Going
to the store for milk and eggs before it snows is a minefield; you are bound
to bump into someone you haven’t seen in years who asks about your family—
Then there’s the checkout girl with the reindeer hat who brightly tells you
to have a happy holiday, and you can’t reply. Sympathy cards are stuffed
in the mailbox’s craw. If you can get dressed before night falls down
like a jail door clanging, it’s been a good day. In the houses of mourning,
the holidays weigh like a heavy sack. In the corner, the empty chair.

Barbara Crooker writes in rural northeastern Pennsylvania, where she lives with her husband and son, age 28, who has autism. Her poems have appeared in a variety of literary journals and anthologies, and among her awards is the 2003 Thomas Merton Poetry of the Sacred Prize. Her newest book is More (C&R Press, 2010).