– after Seamus Heaney
Late June, after the final hands raised in desk rows
‘til Independence Day, the strawberries would appear.
At first, just white flowers, yellow centers,
then splashes of red like blood.
You tasted a couple even though
you hadn’t paid for them at the u-pick stand.
Those rows, commercial even in those days —
overpaying for the green cardboard quarts,
it seemed okay to sneak a few in the field
as if the farmer expected u-pickers
to be tempted to sample their harvest.
We wore ridiculous hats to cover the sun
till the containers overflowed with all sorts
of shapes, the dark bulbous berries glowing
like soldiers’ wounds. Our fingers dyed
with juices, our knees caked with dirt.
We didn’t have the heart to ignore the lonely,
tiny ones the others left behind, collecting
every ripe splotch our hands touched.
Our rows picked clean, not even a rabbit
would find a decent nibble now.
I always felt liberation. This reliance
on the work of our labor to provide.
Each year this freedom, answering to no one.
Contributor’s Note: LISA WILEY is an English professor at Erie Community College North Campus. She is the author of two chapbooks, “My Daughter Wears Her Evil Eye to School” (The Writer’s Den, 2015) and “Chamber Music” (Finishing Line Press, 2013). She is a regional judge for the annual Poetry Out Loud competition. This poem is a homage to the late Irish poet Seamus Heaney’s “Blackberry-Picking,” found in his 1966 volume “Death of a Naturalist.”