Blackberry

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

 

I read this poem to one of my classes this week. It took me back to the golden September evenings of my childhood, when we would take our still sandy summer holiday buckets down to the bottom of the garden and fill them with the warm and spiky berries that grew behind the shed. Sticky mouthed, we’d troop back up the garden path to the kitchen with our purple treasure, handing them over to Mum, who would magically turn them into a delicious, sweetly sharp crumble. In these miserable, grey days of February, I find myself longing for the light and warmth of September, my favourite month. I may not be able to recapture the weather, but I can recapture the taste of a good fruit crumble. I use this Jamie Oliver recipe, and it couldn’t be more delicious. – Rachel