Grief Is a River

October 05, 2016

Introduction by Ted Kooser: 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 particular 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.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2013 by Barbara Crooker, “Grief” (Gold, Cascade Books, 2013). Poem reprinted by permission of Barbara Crooker and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2016 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

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  1. Dear Kathy this is a sad poem with much truth. Sometimes we refuse to move past the grief for fear we will lose forever the one we love. Thanks for sharing. Hope you are staying safe from Matthew. Will it bring bad weather where you live? We have a mission team down in Haiti- been "looking up"for them. Take care and have a great end of the week. Hugs!

  2. Debbie--I thought this poem was so beautiful, so descriptive, and it just stayed with me for days after I first read it that I had to share it. I'm glad you enjoyed it, too.

    So far, the forecast has Matthew hitting the eastern part of the state, so we should be OK. We might not get any bad weather at all, fingers crossed. Thanks for your concern.

  3. I remember reading this poem and thinking it was beautiful. I'm pretty sure I saved it too. Glad to read the storm may miss you!

  4. Thanks, Cheryl. We're going to be fine here, but those on the eastern coast will be facing some strong winds and storm surge. Hopefully everyone heeds the evacuation warnings.