I find myself scratching out a poem when I’m humbled by a situation I can’t comprehend or overcome by extreme emotion that will not be harnessed. While I claim no genius at the form, I sense that all of us are poets when we are young and we lose access to the gift as we age. Barbara Crooker is a wise teacher and gifted poet. She has a knack for helping us notice the ordinary and apprehending its majesty. 

Published in the Paterson Literary Review, Volume 39

Published in the Paterson Literary Review, Volume 39

The Foolproof Sesame Cookie Litmus Test

On Mulberry Street
I found the treasure:
the golden S,
piles of them
a full cart of them
a man and a boy protecting them.

A half-pound is where we started,
the boy and me,
Then why not a few more?
     there are people I will need to share
     these cookies with,
     people demanding their own chew.
A pound is where we left off.

For the price of a Domino’s pizza
I owned 15 cookies:
15 cookies shaped like a primitive squiggle
     like an amoeba risking everything to become a paramecium
15 cookies of toasted amber grain,
     sunk in a paper bag, not boxed and tied like a stuffed shirt
15 cookies awaiting my orders
     very patient, not at all like the natives of Mulberry Street.

Let me count the ways in which
a sesame cookie changes your life:
It is sweet but not sugary
crisp yet not crunchy
dry and, oh, crumbly
making it the perfect partner
to hot spiced tea.

Give one to a
and you will discover
whether he is
alkali or acid.

You know volumes about people
when they face a cookie this clever:
I don’t like sesame
I don’t like things that look like squiggles
I gave it up for lent
No carbohydrates, please.

The old me would have insisted:
Take it. Have it later. Enjoy.
The new me:
If you’re not going to eat it, give it back.

I like the new me better.

Sesame cookies
are my litmus test:
I’m incapable of loving anyone
who can’t embrace their crumble,
their desiccated crumbs melting
on an anxious tongue,
If the toasted seed of princes and queens
lodges between your bicuspids
it is not annoying,
it is expected.
It is not a glitch,
it is a second chance.
One seed left behind to savor,
tongue to gum to cheek.



Everything’s dialed down a notch
at today’s farmer’s market;
The babies suck their pacifiers,
The mothers happy enough with
the last of the tomatoes,
A father teaches a son how
to tie a shoe.
“Never forget” it says on
the fishmonger’s blackboard
above the price of squid.
It is impossible to gather it all
– all that we have forgotten –
in autumn’s bushel.
In the aftermath
we were relieved to see
the homeless man of our ‘hood in a familiar doorway,
his life still rigged together with string, plastic bags and a soiled Tufts sweatshirt.
Remember when we let a stranger take our subway seat,
     Amen to the man with the fleshy nose seeded
     with black pits like the crust of a good rye,
     Amen to the tattooed girl sucking an orange lollipop,
     Amen to the nurse with a butt the size of Texas –
     – Please take two seats – we forgive you your Twinkies.
We held doors open, waited in line without seething,
thanked the cashier.
Please, we said. After you.
In our pockets,
– we double-checked –
we clutched
the identical fortune cookie:
You will live longer than most.