FALL 2009

John Repp

BLUEBERRY (or Another Summer-of-1975 Poem)

.............The chains that bind us most closely are the ones we have broken. —Antonio Porchia

Gather with me in the kitchen where the floorboards
sag & squeak & Star's marbles veer
toward the northern corner unless
you put some serious oomph into your thumb.
Say blueberry. Say it sound by sound.
Cathy sits at the kitchen table with a friend.
Neither wears anything beneath her muslin blouse.
The helicopters have lifted off
the embassy roof. The house was built in the 1740s.
Dave & I have driven into the tidal flats
in his father's Willys. We ran out of gas near Bridgeton.
Read Kinnell's “Blackberry Eating” then my “Mulberry”
then finish this. Cathy & I will soon dunk in the Maurice River,
our cutoffs, my Pegasus t-shirt & her just-loose-enough blouse
tossed on the bank. Stand where I stand & you'll glimpse
the friend's puckered left nipple. You'll think, as I do,
If it does that when it's this hot, winter should be interesting.
For five minutes, say every word you think.
Notice what your mouth does. The floorboards are twelve
to fourteen inches wide. Some of the nail heads are big
as the small est of Star's marbles. I no longer work
at the egg auction, but Nate does. He still talks about Auschwitz,
but only after his lunchtime schnapps. Blueberry. Mary spices
the pork roast on the drain board. The seedlings I've forced
for six weeks with liquid fertilizer & two fluorescents
in a closet lined with aluminum foil sit crammed
between the Willys' front seat & back gate.
The satellites that let us see the helicopters lift off
the embassy roof didn't exist ten years ago. buhhhhllllloooooo.
Cathy & the friend talk astrology. What are you?
Dave & I don't know, so they tell us they can tell
just by looking, which they do & we check & they're right.
We say Wow, elongating the ow. My mother's hair
has turned silver. Gemini hasn't been a space capsule
for eight years. Reading Kesey might help.
Richard Fariña. Alan Watts before he got famous.
Ram Dass, who goes without saying. Luckily, Dave's father
keeps a topped-off gas can behind the Willys' front seat.
My grandmother still roasts the world's best chicken.
George & Mike still work at the egg auction.
My mother has just turned fifty, which means inch-long hair,
swollen joints & a mania to make amends.
Mary beckons to Star, who skips in from t he mudroom.
Let's shuck this corn & they do. Dave & I listened
to Paradise & Lunch as we packed the seedlings
in the ice-cream-cone boxes a nymph named Maria
stacked for me outside the back door of Verona Custard.
buhhherrrrreeee. George only laughs when you ask
about Vietnam. Mike catalogs the dope, ordnance
& women (girls, really, as he always confides)
in descending order of power & enough detail
to fuel reverie & nightmare that seem like neither.
Mary's Dave comes out of the bathroom in a towel.
As soon as he's dressed, we'll head to the secret field.
Low-tide funk sweetens the kitchen. My grandmother still makes
the best peach pie in history. She worked twenty hours a day
between 1935 & 1941. Pine Barrens blueberries, the smaller the sweeter,
must be tasted to be believed. Go northwest of Hammonton,
past the cranberry bogs. My mother has never forgiven the Jews
who stiffed her at the Dells resort. They had the table manners
of five-year-olds. She smiled & smiled & got zero,
but then, nobody ever gave her anything. My father either.
My grandfathers, grandmothers, aunts & uncles either. Me?
I've been given everything & I mean that. Taste the peaches south
of the Black Horse Pike. Taste everything till no taste remains.
The seeds that became the forced seedl ings Dave & Dave & I
will plant in the secret field rolled down the inner crease
of Arthur (Or the Decline & Fall of the British Empire)
into the ceramic bowl Joni bought at an old-timey-music festival
in West Virginia & gave me because it was the right time
to give me that particular bowl, but also because I listened
so well & long into a hot night exactly one June ago to the tale
of the baby she gave up for adoption the spring
of her eighth-grade year. My grandmother still talks
about piecework on the Lower East Side, her friend Boyd, the El.
Notice what your mouth does with peach. With Achilles. With sleep.
At the veterans' home where I work, the World War I widows
have their own ward, the World War II widows theirs
& the Korean War widows three rooms with connecting doors.
Say blueberry sound by sound. Say each word beat by beat.
To help her escape some ugly history nobody talks about,
Mary & Dave let Cathy live up a hidden staircase
two inches wider than my shoulders. To walk the four steps
to the alcove under the eave where she sleeps
on a twin-bed mattress over which she's nailed a shelf
that holds two candles, an incense burner & a paperback set
of The Lord of the Rings held upright by a pair
of marble-dove bookends, I have to hunch over a little.
I live in half a converted gas station with a tin shower stall,
paper curtains & a cat named Zar. Maybe some Neruda
would be good, certainly Bly wearing a dashiki
during his dulcimer period would be good.
My mother can't sleep. No matter what she does,
no sleep. I would dunk in the Maurice or any river with Joni
or her sister or the girl in purchasing with red hair
& body full of freckles who eats lunch with Nora,
the WAC from Morristown—but wait, Dave's ready,
so he & Dave & I wave goodbye, stride out to the yard,
lift the Willys' back gate, hoist two ice-cream-cone boxes each
& head across the corn field, down into a stand of cattails
& up a shallow slope into pine woods, then scrub oak & briars,
horseflies, Delaware Bay five miles west, gnats, sandy trail,
salt-punk-marsh-reek, no breeze, mosquitoes, white sky
through pine needles, sweat shining on both Daves' necks & arms,
sweat running down my sides, shoulders aching, forearms numb,
the seedlings rustling a little, serrated leaves deepest green,
dappled sun, bird cries, twigs & briars & pine cones scratching.
ssslllleeeeepuhhhh. My mother still listens to Paul Whiteman.
Joni introduced me to the word clawhammer
which I love almost as much as Dock Boggs clawhammering.
Helicopters thwupthwupthwup off all the world's embassy roofs.
Those left behind have bootstraps to fall back on & always did.
The secret field is long & wide as two of my tin shower stalls laid end-to-end.
My mother is dying & dying & dying, though nobody says a word about it.
On three sides, blueberry bushes eight feet high & I mean that,
secret blueberries Mary bakes in pies Dave & I have helped
disappear three times, blueberries sweet as those the Pineys sell,
big as the biggest of Star's marbles, the ball bearings
Dave brought home from Wheaton Glass.
The requisitions are blue at the veterans' home where I work.
Once a week, the attendants use garden hoses to rinse
the demented vets they've tied to wheelchairs with strips of sheet.
When Cathy showed me where she lived, she wore a chamois shirt,
beige, the top two buttons undone & Levis faded nearly white.
Sleet ticked on the window. The plane tree planted thirty years
before Bunker Hill clattered in the wind. I studied her collarbones,
the three creases at each temple. She said We think the house-slave
or maybe a couple or a family lived here. You believe that shit?
Kneel with me in the sandy loam, gnats thronging ears & eyes & nostrils.
Eat wi th me the secret fruit, salted by the sweat wetting our upper lips.
What a perfect spot for the noble weed, what a perfect long season,
what perfect, dusty, blue glories we shove in our mouths
once the planting's done. Forget meaning—for the second
or two it's possible, anyway. Wet or dry, bellies full or empty,
naked or spiffed-out in new pajamas, the demented vets
live where no one can find them. Taste the blueberry. Taste blueberry.
Notice what your mouth does. The helicopters glint way off.
Mary slices the pork roast, spoons out the baked beans, reaches tongs
into the pot for the white corn. In a few moments, the secret harvest
& everything else will burn away.

John Repp's most recent collections of poetry are Fever (Mayapple Press, 2007) and No Away (Pudding House, 2007). Individual poems have appeared in recent issues of Poetry, Court Green, The Journal, and Rhino, among others. A frequent contributor to the book pages of the Cleveland Plain Dealer and The St. Petersburg Times, he lives in Erie, Pennsylvania, with his wife, the visual artist Katherine Knupp, and their son, Dylan.



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