Alaska raspberries, and a poem

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.

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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)

Wood

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.

Fire

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

my mouth.

Stone

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.

Water

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”

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One thought on “Alaska raspberries, and a poem

  1. Oh yes I love this and, girlfriend, I love the intensity of your experience and the bravery with which you share it so raw. I could taste those raspberries and feel like I was right there with you. A precious aspect of Alaska in summer. I just landed in Seattle; I heard Arctic Valley bluebs are great right now, but I daresay they’ll all be done when I get back toward the end of the month.
    Love to get to see you then, though.
    love
    Ela

    Like

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