Strawberrying

May Swenson - 1913-1989

My hands are murder-red. Many a plump head
drops on the heap in the basket. Or, ripe
to bursting, they might be hearts, matching
the blackbird’s wing-fleck. Gripped to a reed
he shrieks his ko-ka-ree in the next field.
He’s left his peck in some juicy cheeks, when
at first blush and mostly white, they showed
streaks of sweetness to the marauder.

We’re picking near the shore, the morning
sunny, a slight wind moving rough-veined leaves
our hands rumple among. Fingers find by feel
the ready fruit in clusters. Here and there,
their squishy wounds. . . . Flesh was perfect
yesterday. . . . June was for gorging. . . .
sweet hearts young and firm before decay.

“Take only the biggest, and not too ripe,”
a mother calls to her girl and boy, barefoot
in the furrows. “Don’t step on any. Don’t
change rows. Don’t eat too many.” Mesmerized
by the largesse, the children squat and pull
and pick handfuls of rich scarlets, half
for the baskets, half for avid mouths.
Soon, whole faces are stained.

A crop this thick begs for plunder. Ripeness
wants to be ravished, as udders of cows when hard,
the blue-veined bags distended, ache to be stripped.
Hunkered in mud between the rows, sun burning
the backs of our necks, we grope for, and rip loose
soft nippled heads. If they bleed—too soft—
let them stay. Let them rot in the heat.

When, hidden away in a damp hollow under moldy
leaves, I come upon a clump of heart-shapes
once red, now spiderspit-gray, intact but empty,
still attached to their dead stems—
families smothered as at Pompeii—I rise
and stretch. I eat one more big ripe lopped
head. Red-handed, I leave the field.

More by May Swenson

Blue

Blue, but you are Rose, too,
and buttermilk, but with blood
dots showing through.
A little salty your white
nape boy-wide.  Glinting hairs
shoot back of your ears' Rose
that tongues like to feel
the maze of, slip into the funnel,
tell a thunder-whisper to.
When I kiss, your eyes' straight
lashes down crisp go like doll's
blond straws.  Glazed iris Roses,
your lids unclose to Blue-ringed
targets, their dark sheen-spokes
almost green.  I sink in Blue-
black Rose-heart holes until you
blink.  Pink lips, the serrate
folds taste smooth, and Rosehip-
round, the center bud I suck.
I milknip your two Blue-skeined
blown Rose beauties, too, to sniff
their berries' blood, up stiff
pink tips.  You're white in 
patches, only mostly Rose,
buckskin and saltly, speckled
like a sky.  I love your spots,
your white neck, Rose, your hair's
wild straw splash, silk spools
for your ears.  But where white
spouts out, spills on your brow
to clear eyepools, wheel shafts
of light, Rose, you are Blue.

Water Picture

In the pond in the park 
all things are doubled:
Long buildings hang and 
wriggle gently. Chimneys 
are bent legs bouncing 
on clouds below. A flag 
wags like a fishhook 
down there in the sky.

The arched stone bridge 
is an eye, with underlid 
in the water. In its lens 
dip crinkled heads with hats 
that don't fall off. Dogs go by, 
barking on their backs. 
A baby, taken to feed the 
ducks, dangles upside-down, 
a pink balloon for a buoy.

Treetops deploy a haze of 
cherry bloom for roots, 
where birds coast belly-up 
in the glass bowl of a hill; 
from its bottom a bunch 
of peanut-munching children 
is suspended by their 
sneakers, waveringly.

A swan, with twin necks 
forming the figure 3, 
steers between two dimpled 
towers doubled. Fondly 
hissing, she kisses herself, 
and all the scene is troubled:
water-windows splinter, 
tree-limbs tangle, the bridge 
folds like a fan.

Little Lion Face

Little lion face
I stopped to pick
among the mass of thick
succulent blooms, the twice

streaked flanges of your silk
sunwheel relaxed in wide
dilation, I brought inside,
placed in a vase.  Milk

of your shaggy stem
sticky on my fingers, and
your barbs hooked to my hand,
sudden stings from them 

were sweet.  Now I'm bold
to touch your swollen neck,
put careful lips to slick
petals, snuff up gold

pollen in your navel cup.
Still fresh before night
I leave you, dawn's appetite
to renew our glide and suck.

An hour ahead of sun
I come to find you.  You're
twisted shut as a burr,
neck drooped unconscious,

an inert, limp bundle,
a furled cocoon, your
sun-streaked aureole
eclipsed and dun.

Strange feral flower asleep
with flame-ruff wilted,
all magic halted,
a drink I pour, steep

in the glass for your
undulant stem to suck.
Oh, lift your young neck,
open and expand to your

lover, hot light.
Gold corona, widen to sky.
I hold you lion in my eye
sunup until night.