I am a blackberry thief because the harvest that I gather, during the days when the September sun still has the farewell kisses of summer in it, does not belong to me, but to nature.
I know where each bramble patch is, because I have been walking past them since spring, and of late began to see the tight, green clusters which told me that summer was more a woman than a girl now, saw them blush and turn red, then saw some of them blacken until they winked like the eyes of Roma children amongst the uneven leaves. Their brambles, like the canes of the shy, wild raspberry, bump shoulders and jostle with rose bay willow herb, and attract its flying, cotton-seeds which stick to the ripe fruit and to the cobwebs spun to catch lazy, late flies. They mingle with wild rose-briars drooping with hips, and with elder, and with greying gorse, and brush against the sly nettles. They interrupt the shy, apologetic ferns.
Yet I go thieving with bare arms, braving stings and tears, to remind myself that I am alive, and so is the mother-bramble, so is the poison-touch of the nettle, the rasp of that dying gorse also. The thief knows only to take the black fruit that do not resist her tugs. “These are still mine, still my children!” says the mother-bramble of some, the still-red, and holds them back. She is stronger than I am, and her bare briars can tangle my legs and pitch me over if I try to run. I have to give her her dignity. Once today a great, bare whip of a mother-bramble hooked the flesh of the back of my hand and would not let me go. I had to stand with patience, making sure my bag of fruit did not spill while I gently pulled this way and that, making no complaint about the pain, until the fearless little tine of that yellow thorn loosed me.
There are places where the berries are still green, or red, waiting for another day to come to be picked. Some hang high over a hidden ditch, and I will not reach for them; some I will leave for the mother-bramble to dispose of as she wishes. Others I will steal with purpled fingers, cram into a plastic bag, take home, imprison in an old ice-cream carton… then one day I will roll them out like drifts of damson hailstones, wash them, snow them with sugar, bury them in blankets of pastry, bake them until they are all blood and flesh and the pastry is brown as sarcophagi, brown as a clay furrow, brown as a Berber. Already my mouth hurts with that lust – I could wish my life away to midwinter, when the brambles are broken and trodden down, when the berries no longer sing of the mother-briar but belong to me, I can spend my pelf, bitter-sweet as Sappho’s love.
I would rather be a blackberry-thief than a poet, rather lope through the loans glancing left and right for those green razor-wires heavy with temptation than play with metaphor, rather roll the juice round my tongue than play with words, rather live to feel the thorns on my skin and the shock and pain of sweetness in my mouth than make pentameter sit up and beg, rather play hunt-the-purple-thimble than flip the coin of verse, rather thieve than grieve, rather steal than reveal. These days when you can still lie back and map the clouds I want more of the hunt for bush tucker caviar, pinching from nature, taxing the hedgerows mean as a Norman baron, wresting tribute from the countryside, careless, a fool, forgetting my own rules, magenta juice mixing with my own blood and flow until I am half blackberry blood-sister myself.
My limbs ache from stretching. Enough until tomorrow.
Consuela! Where’s my tisane?