Daddy always knew where to find them,
Deep in the murmuring summer park –
My legs sticking to our car’s vinyl seats,
Still trees bristling with slurring cicadas.
Nestled under stiff leaves and nettles,
Like clusters of tiny dark eggs –
The youngest ones hard and green,
Reddening, deepening into bursting black,
Juice tattooing my fingers
As I plunked them into my pail.
The ditches teemed with them,
Their untamed abundance made me greedy –
My grabbing hands ignored the briars,
Blood mixing with the berry stains,
Cuts on fingers and wrists stinging in sweat –
Feeling them burn on the way home,
Staring at the bucket of bruised wild in my lap.
He insisted on making it himself:
We could only watch our work transform,
His wrinkles of old worry unfold in pride
As he pulled it bubbling from the oven,
Veins of popping purple juice running
Through peaks of browned sugared dough,
Served thick with melting vanilla ice cream,
Summer filling our scalded mouths.
When his ruined lungs blistered beyond breath
I could still feel his sweet burden singe my tongue,
See his haggard face soften in the oven’s steam,
The plunging of our hands into dark bramble
Over and over, scratching for swollen treasure,
Scarring ourselves to fill his latest search
For a happier evening, his recipe for something good.
(First published in Loch Raven Review 18.2, 2022 – thanks to the editors.)