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After Blackberrying

August 4, 2021 by

blackberries

As English brambles promise clusters of blue-black berries in nearly every hedgerow, I am reminded of Seamus Heaney’s poem, “Blackberry Picking” – a beautiful, bitter-sweet poem with “candor, virtue, and reality” according to David Wright. And I might also add with “reflective bite.”

On a much humbler note, I offer you my own response to an August afternoon of collecting blackberries. No reflective bite here, but you will find something else. At the risk of trampling on poetic magic, I’ve included the background. If you prefer to enjoy a poem without context or process notes, please skip ahead to the poem and return to the following bit later.

It was the kind of beastly hot, dry day that mutes all colours – sky, ground, grasses. Everything slows down except sweat glands and the desire for water, which explains why the juiciest clusters of blackberries appeared so tantalizing and often disappeared down our throats. As David and I with our two youngest children straggled home along the final hedgerow, a welcome breeze – albeit hot and scratchy – happily surprised us. An image captured me and later developed into a poem, which hovered incomplete and unsatisfying.

Six years later, as I taught poetry to a class of seventh and eighth grade (year eight and nine) students, the need to produce a haiku recollected the image and molded parts of the original arresting picture into:

Leaf caught in spider’s
thread, madly whirling, twirling,
dizzy autumn dance.

That was good enough to read aloud to twelve- and thirteen-year-olds. But a haiku? I felt the hedgerow moment had actually suggested more.

Another six years and I rediscovered both bits of paper scrunched in the messy notebook I was pretending to put in order. Some time and thought, coupled with more recent images of my neighbour’s dancing daughter (poetry is not necessarily historically accurate) and voilà: a poem. I think I’m satisfied, at least for the next six years. Perhaps you will be too?

After Blackberrying
One lone willow leaf,
caught
     on a spider thread,
madly dancing
in the August breeze.

line drawing of dancing child

My daughter stretches to snatch it.
I halt her hand mid-air,
     blackberry stains enfolding blackberry stains.
She neither struggles nor disputes,
but stops
still. We watch
until the wind drops
and the leaf dangles inert,
its dance completed.
Impromptu ballet
has not ended
I notice
on the path ahead
my daughter
giddily, dizzily whirling and twirling,
     occasionally with grace –
my very own purple-pawed denizen of the hedgerows.

First published in July 2017.


Line drawing by the author.

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About the author

Ann Morrissey photograph

Ann Morrissey

Ann Morrissey lives in Beech Grove, a Bruderhof in England, with her husband, Dave. They delight in the English countryside...

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