Picking Blackberries

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.