Thorns that Thwart Sweetness

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 ke
ep, knew they would not.
~Seamus Heaney “Blackberry Picking”

…Do not be afraid, though briers and thorns are all around you
Ezekiel 2:6

In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it? He laid aside his immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death.
~John Stott
from The Cross

Today I will make wild blackberry cobbler, facing down the brambles and briers that thwart my reach for the elusive fruit – in this heat, it is important to harvest blackberries before they shrivel up and rot on the vine. I aim to gather more berries than scratches to prove that thorns and rot must never win and I will not yield to them.

Painful thorns and decay have always been part of life. They barricade us from all that is sweet and good and precious. They tear us up, bloody us, make us cry out in pain and grief, cause a stink, and deepen our fear that we may never overcome such a sorrowful destiny.

Yet even the most brutal crown of thorns or the rot of the grave did not stop the loving sacrifice, can never thwart the sweetness of redemption, will not spoil the goodness, nor destroy the promise of salvation to come.

We simply wait to be fed the loving gift that comes only from bloodied hands.

Flesh will fail and bones will break
thieves will steal, the earth will shake
Night will fall, the light will fade
The Lord will give and take away

Put no trust in the earth
in the sod you stand upon
Flowers fade into dust
The Lord will make a place for us

Because of His great Love
We are not overcome
Because of His great Love
We are not overcome

Have no fear for your life
Turn your cheek, turn your cheek
Bear the yoke of love and death
The Lord will give all life and breath

Because of His great Love
We are not overcome
Because of His great Love
We are not overcome

(from Bifrost Arts)

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It is a Lichen Day

It is a lichen day.
Not a bit of rotten wood lies on the dead leaves,
but it is covered with fresh, green cup lichens…
All the world seems a great lichen and to grow like one.

Nature doth thus kindly heal every wound.
By the mediation of a thousand little mosses and fungi,
the most unsightly objects become radiant of beauty.
There seem to be two sides of this world, presented us at different times,
as we see things in growth or dissolution, in life or death.


And seen with the eye of the poet,
as God sees them,
all things are alive and beautiful
~Henry David Thoreau from his journal

The truth is-
I’m somewhat of a lichen myself –
not easily defined,
a bit of an opportunist,
thriving in gray drizzle,
sometimes colorful but most often not,
attempting to cover and heal unseen wounds.

Mostly I hang on,
persevering,
at times obnoxiously tenacious
and not always appreciated,
yet…unique in an other worldly way.

A dreamer of fairy tale kingdoms
while living simply a peasant’s life
in plain sight.

The Heart of a Pear

There are only ten minutes in the life of a pear
when it is perfect to eat.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Silver dust
lifted from the earth,
higher than my arms reach,
you have mounted.
O silver,
higher than my arms reach
you front us with great mass;


no flower ever opened
so staunch a white leaf,
no flower ever parted silver
from such rare silver;

O white pear,
your flower-tufts,
thick on the branch,
bring summer and ripe fruits
in their purple hearts.

~Hilda Doolittle Dawson (H.D.) “Pear Tree”

we noticed the pear tree,
the limbs so heavy with fruit
they nearly touched the ground.
We went out to the meadow; our steps
made black holes in the grass;
and we each took a pear,
and ate, and were grateful. 
~Jane Kenyon from “Coming Home at Twilight in Late Summer”

A moment’s window of perfection is so fleeting
in a life of bruises, blemishes and worm holes.
Wait too long and nectar-smooth flesh
softens to mush and rot.

The unknown rests beneath a blushed veneer:
perhaps immature gritty fruit unripened,
or past-prime browning pulp brimming with fruit flies
readily tossed aside for compost.

Our own sweet salvage from warming humus
depends not on flawless flesh deep inside
but heaven’s grace dropped into our laps:
to be eaten the moment it is offered.

The perfect pear falls when ripe
and not a moment before,
ready to become an exquisite tart which
tastes of a selfless gift.

I Am Responsible

In your extended absence, you permit me
use of earth, anticipating
some return on investment. I must report
failure in my assignment, principally
regarding the tomato plants.
I think I should not be encouraged to grow
tomatoes. Or, if I am, you should withhold
the heavy rains, the cold nights that come
so often here, while other regions get
twelve weeks of summer. All this
belongs to you: on the other hand,
I planted the seeds, I watched the first shoots
like wings tearing the soil, and it was my heart
broken by the blight, the black spot so quickly
multiplying in the rows. I doubt
you have a heart, in our understanding of
that term. You who do not discriminate
between the dead and the living, who are, in consequence,
immune to foreshadowing, you may not know
how much terror we bear, the spotted leaf,
the red leaves of the maple falling
even in August, in early darkness: I am responsible for these vines.
~Louise Glück “Vespers”

As the calendar turns to September and August fades away, I know all too well what this means. I have spent a lifetime loving the season of autumn best of all, but that is because I wasn’t living it, and it seems now I am.

More and more the blight feels personal, the color change is in the mirror looking back at me, the leaves falling from my own scalp, the threat of rot setting in quite real. There is nothing “pumpkin spice” and “harvest gold” about growing older.

Even so, the fruit I try to bear is still edible even if not as presentable; the vine still bears useful life. A first frost forces ripening and prepares what remains because time is short and there is so much yet to get done.

I feel the responsibility of making all this effort count for something. I am here because I was intentionally planted, weeded, nurtured, watered and warmed. When it is my turn, the rot is cut away and thankfully forgotten.

I will still be sweet to the taste, just as I am meant to be.

An Ordinary Decent Egg

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It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird:
it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. 
We are like eggs at present. 
And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. 
We must be hatched or go bad.
C. S. Lewis from Mere Christianity

 

 

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I reveled in being the good egg.
Smooth on the surface,
gooey inside, often a bit scrambled,
ordinary and decent,
indistinguishable from others,
blending in,
not making waves.

It’s not been bad staying just as I am.
Except I can no longer remain like this.

A dent or two appeared in my outer shell
from bumps along the way,
and a crack up one side
extending daily.

It has come time to change or face rot.

Nothing will be the same again:
the fragments of shell
left behind
abandoned
as useless confinement.

Newly hatched:
my home becomes
the wind beneath my wings
soaring an endless horizon
that stretches beyond eternity.

 

 

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A Burst of Fruit Flies

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The whiskey stink of rot has settled
in the garden, and a burst of fruit flies rises
when I touch the dying tomato plants.

Still, the claws of tiny yellow blossoms
flail in the air as I pull the vines up by the roots
and toss them in the compost.
 
It feels cruel. Something in me isn’t ready
to let go of summer so easily. To destroy
what I’ve carefully cultivated all these months.
Those pale flowers might still have time to fruit.
 
My great-grandmother sang with the girls of her village
as they pulled the flax. Songs so old
and so tied to the season that the very sound
seemed to turn the weather.
~Karina Borowicz  “September Tomatoes”
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I have an uncomfortable relationship with fruit flies this time of year. The compost bin erupts with a black cloud of fruit flies when I throw in the day’s cast offs. The fruit I bring in from the orchard and garden must be preserved before it rots, but hundreds of Drosophila melanogaster decide their breeding grounds are far more hospitable in a warm kitchen than in the chilly outdoors.  And breed they do, each female laying up to 100 eggs a day just like in biology lab at Stanford 40+ years ago where we traced recessive vs. dominant genetic traits of curly deformed wings, stubby bristles and colored eyes. I am not interested in such subtlety in my current crop of flies.  In fact I have no sympathy for them at all.
I have laid out killing fields everywhere on the cupboards — fruit fly traps (paper cones feeding into apple cider vinegar baths in water glasses), a cautionary tale to the daily burden of fresh fruit flies.

It feels so cruel.

As rot and degradation is their happy place, the flies will win until the fruit is harvested, preserved and put away for a winter day.  Then the kitchen becomes my happy place again, fly-free with no more killing fields.
Then I must face the cruel task of pulling up carefully tended garden plants to ready the beds for winter.  Perhaps if I remember to sing as I pull them out by the roots, they won’t see me weep.
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