By Alan Weltzien
Every August, long-sleeved, I cushion bowl
on driftwood or sand as I strain upwards
lean into sand bank festooned with green
tendrils that arc out and down, a clotted
mass of branches covered with blackberries
green russet and purple, tight-packed.
Beach cries recede while my arm
lifts and shifts, left or right hand cupped
to catch what thumb and fingers gently pull.
You know what to pick. As the berries
sugar their nodes swell, double in size
and the berry grows heavy, ready to drop.
I release it just before gravity, clump
several in hand before I turn and cast
into bowl. Salt air dissipates as my nose
brushes sun-warmed leaves, a spring world
inhaled in high summer. I think of berry
harvests centuries past when Kikialos or
coastal Salish paddled in, filled matted baskets
smacked their lips over sweet cornucopia.
Now few pick. More successful than Tantalus
I pick a gallon in an hour or two as though
it’s all for me, the thorns only rarely
prick my flesh, remind me of the braided
story of pleasure and pain. I push off
the balls of my feet, extend my reach
and realize I am Tantulus, condemned
to miss most, my purple-stained fingers
fall short of waves of branches, legions
of plump berries untouched, left to rot or drop.
After arms or legs ache I gather bowl,
sand scrub at water’s edge as my tongue
tastes jam or fresh cobbler, a berry slurry
anchoring islands of sweet browned biscuit
on which a mound of vanilla settles,
cool white runoff puddles the hot blue-black.