Thursday, August 23, 2007

Blackberry Picking

Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer's blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots
Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills
We trekked and picked until the cans were full,
Until the tinkling bottom had been covered
With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard's.

We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush
The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn't fair
That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.
Each year I hoped they'd keep, knew they would not.

~Seamus Heaney

Art, by Elizabeth Adela Forbes, found here.

Heaney's poem seems perfect to me for this time of year, when there's so much abundance but also the beginning of signs of rot. Just this week, I've noticed a few green acorns making it dangerous to walk on my front path. A few leaves are starting to turn yellow and drift to Earth. And we've even had a few cool days, although this weekend temperatures will be up in the nineties again. I think the message of Heaney's poem is -- eat the blackberries. Stand there by the "hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills" and stuff them into your mouth. Lick the juice off of your fingers. Summer's coming to an end and trying to stop the turning of the wheel never works; it only leads to rot.

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