The Half-Life of Strawberries
Even old Mr. Cupp—should I say Farmer Cupp?—has plowed
them under now. The conical ones—Hoods & Northwests,
half-shriveled and pointed like nipples. Late-honey-sweet
and too tender to travel. Couldn’t handle the truck trips.
Now thanks to the seedy-eyed botanists at universities
in California, the new farmers, the made-for-TV ones
with their dark-rimmed glasses and spit-creased overalls grow
Totems, Bentons, Shuksans, too. They’re hardier, oblate—
at-the-ready for shiny Safeway tarts stacked with cardboard kiwi
and rock-hard peaches.
There’s nobody on the old road now to pick anyway—well,
except for the spat-at mamas and daddies and their babies with fake
papers, fake dates of birth, sixteen by all typed accounts
but breastless and hairless and spilling over with fear,
with lies. But, before all that, back before the law and the plow, we’d hang
around—tight as baling wire—half-dancing and half-needing to pee,
waiting for the berry bus—mid-summer dusty & grinding gears—
soaked in desire, and I can’t say now desire for who-knows-what,
but bleeding with it as a nimbus, as a halo.
By three o’clock, we—we? you must ask. We-who? We, I mean,
we hucksters. We who would become half-baked bakers and over-baked
lawyers and too-young mothers and more than that loggers, but loggers
who wouldn’t last. That we. Those we. That’s who I mean when
I say we—
overbrimmed, rancid with want, half-calved and bawling
for home but still remembering the morning dew on those low-down
plants, the ones St. Hildegard could not abide for their proximity
to snakes and other loamy things. But, that proximity, proxility,
prolixity, was the reason we’d shake off our teenaged throbbing,
our early morning thrum and return the next day
to our knees, and those loamy things
are the reason now, even now, I weep here—
in Mr. Cupp’s old field
rimmed in over-oranged pumpkins and haunted by dust.
from Blood Sisters of the Republic, a Tom Lombardo Poetry Selection.