Yesterday my partner and I picked raspberries with a friend from work and her family.
It was an overcast Alaska evening, the sun still high in the sky at eight o’clock, and overhead the clouds were puffy and full and fat.
What is it about berry picking that is so soothing, so rhythmic, so almost instinctive? As I slapped mosquitoes and picked I thought of generations of women before me leaning over a bucket and picking small berries from thorny bushes, braving large spiders and scraped arms and legs, all for a taste of wild sweetness.
So of course I thought of a poem. As I picked and ate (and probably I ate more than I picked), I wrote fragments inside my head. And soon it felt as if I were eating my own words, pieces of my poems. I recited a line I had written years ago, it stuck inside my head until I thought I would go mad from it all, the lush scent of berries and the drone of mosquitoes, the lull of conversation and the filmy feel of the air, still damp from the previous night’s rain, my words, falling off my lips like the red blood of a berry: I welcomed wind and lifted my bark to the breeze/but like so many things, I misunderstood/and thought their tears were rain.
Since it’s Friday and I’m feeling lazy, I’ll stop here and include the rest of the poem, which has always been one of my favorites. At least for now. Tomorrow I will probably hate it and want to bury it in the yard. I actually did this once, buried my work in the yard.
I wonder if it’s still there.
Four Elements (Or My Life in Quarters)
Growing so fast,
they said I was like a tree
and I laughed,
stretched my arms,
refused to wear shoes.
At night I waved branches
and dreamed pink caterpillars
across my leaves. I welcomed
wind and lifted my bark to the breeze,
but like so many things, I misunderstood
and thought their tears were rain.
Breasts new and tender,
blood waiting to spot my thighs,
I burned, late at night, tossing
in my single bed with a heat
that scorched my throat.
I envied Joan of Arc
and imagined offering myself
not to God but to fire,
the heat of Hell. I wanted,
holy Christ I needed
that dark kiss, that
tongue of flame licking
He told me, in an everyday voice,
that it was over and please
leave the key on the counter.
Back straight, arms like boards,
I couldn’t move or bend,
I was stiff with sorrow and anger
and the need to boulder him
with shade and damp.
Instead I flushed his fish
down the toilet, stole the cats
and left him with nothing
but the hard shape
of his small imagination.
Currents cooling my belly,
those night we swam across the lake,
arms and legs flowing the trust
of a child. Now I swim alone,
my body navigating the wide space
of sheets, my mouth breathing in Os
of pleasure and cold, dark need.
I stroke past algae and mud,
the sucking waves of tide
until I think, I hope,
but there’s only my body
bucking and trembling,
my cold, sly hand,
the silver memory of water.
Previously published in “Ice Floe” and “Sugar Mule”