Picking Mulberries/ poem by Kate Hymes

I climbed the chain link fence,

placed one foot after the other

into the diamond spaces of crisscrossed

metal wire strung along the property line

separating our subdivision from the wild,

cut down to clear land

for track houses, built for GIs,

their spouses and the exploding baby boom.

A thicket of mulberry bushes remained

within reach of determined climbers 

undeterred by twisted spikes

along the fence line’s top bar engineered 

to uphold the linked steel chain below.

A barrier, a borderline to hold back overgrowth, 

nature’s untamed handiwork from

planned growth, humankind’s insistence

to re-create the world in man’s chosen image.

Land reshaped into housing lots, 

rows of rectangles, each corner neatly squared. 

Mortgaged to homeowners as their god-given right,

the American way of life. Children were warned

no to reach over the fence: 

“You’ll get hurt.” “

My feet secure I leaned 

over the boundary line. My head 

and arms disappeared into the wild green 

thicket. I stretched, fingers lengthening 

I plucked the purplest of berries. My thigh

scraped a metal spike atop the fence,

red juice ran down my leg while

I licked sweet purple from my fingers.

All I could think about 

reach further, pluck another and

another to fill Mama’s crocker bowl to be

washed, then tossed into a mottled

black and white pot to cook down

in a little sugar water until the stirring spoon 

came up covered with a silky smooth coat.

The berries even sweeter than the kiss 

that sealed the wound from

climbing over and reaching beyond 

“you’re not supposed to do that.”

Kate Hymes is a poet and writer, writing consultant, and workshop leader. She is a native of New Orleans, Louisiana. Many of her stories and poems are inspired by memories of her hometown, and stories of plantation and city life in southeast Louisiana passed down by family. She is a third generation poet and storyteller. Her poems have been published in a number of anthologies, most recently mightier: Poets for Social Justice, edited by Poet Gold, CAPS Press, 2020. In Fall 2017, her chapbook, True Grain, was published.  She edited wVw Anthologies 2011 and 2015. She has led Wallkill Valley Writers’ workshops, an affiliate of Amherst Writers & Artists, in the Hudson Valley for over 20 years. She lives in New Paltz, NY.

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