Andrew Bertaina

Blackberries

After graduate school, I threw away nearly everything I’d written, certain that I’d moved on. Now that some years have passed, I’ll spend forty minutes trying to find things that I wrote when I was twenty-six, to see if I can glean anything from them. But they were written by a stranger, and most of them are in a landfill somewhere, filled with marginalia from people I used to know. There is a kind of poetry, I suppose, in having all of our words mingling together in the earth, a conversation without end.

I worked in the garden for seven hours this Saturday. I did not work in the garden for seven hours this Saturday. Life is like that: Sometimes you say one thing and mean another. In truth, I often stepped out of the swaths of heat and clouds of mosquitoes to sip on a cool glass of water. Then I’d find myself on the couch, computer in my lap, until I remembered that it was more pleasurable to pull weeds from the ground than thoughts from my head.

The flowers I planted last year are now in bloom. The hydrangea lived, along with some cone flowers, blue ice plants, and droves of black-eyed Susan’s, pressing beyond the borders and into the grass like paparazzi. There is a small stretch of yard beneath the hydrangea that slopes down toward the side yard where I planted two dead sticks. I purchased the sticks, which had pictures of blackberry bushes on the side, at Home Depot, and I read the directions and pressed the sticks into two small holes. However, what they appeared to be that day, and what they still appear to be, are two dead sticks that someone picked up off the lawn and put in a box with a picture of blackberries on them. How pleasing, the symmetry of blackberry sticks. People, myself included, are so rarely what they appear to be.

Sometimes, when I don’t remember exactly where I planted the sticks, I’ll convince myself that they’ve somehow turned themselves toward the sunlight, which arcs down through the limbs of an oak. Then, I will look at them more closely, as if they were a life, and I will realize that they haven’t moved at all, that any change I imagined was illusory. Why do I even bother getting up to shower, to shave, to write a poem about the flowers bending toward the light? I imagine someday that blackberry vines will grow from those two dead sticks, and I will think of the moment when I doubted their resurrection and imagine the berries will taste twice as sweet.

Is life a series of moments, of distractions, only briefly interrupted by continuity? Or is life a continuous narrative that is constantly interrupted? When I was a child, we gathered fat blackberries from a vine that had climbed over the small fence and into our yard. I can still remember the explosion of warmth and flavor when I bit into one, the shimmering heat of summer, the haze of childhood coloring everything in memory. I miss those berries so much. Every blackberry I’ve had since then has been but a phantom, a shade, a blackberry in name only.

***

 Earlier tonight, as if from thin air, the word “quotient” appeared in my mind, hammering away like song lyrics from decades ago. And yet, I could not remember what quotient meant. The word “tangent” was there as well, humming around. I was thinking then about lines and angles, the relationship between cut glass, a woman’s jawline, and all the intersections and vertices that I’ve missed or forgotten through the years—an afternoon in Venice spent wandering the cobbles in confusion until meeting the green sheen of water.

***

Every time I start writing something I’m tempted to start with “I want.” And yet, I know this is a superficial want, a desire incapable of being fulfilled, and yet I want still. What I want now is for those dead sticks to turn into blackberry bushes. I want them to turn into vines that reach up into the vault of the sky. I want to climb them after midnight and sit amongst the stars reading poems by Yeats or Shelley. You see, wanting is a terrible thing as this idyll is unlikely to happen. Instead, I should want them to remain as dead sticks, soldiering on, occasionally fooling me after a brisk wind into thinking they are turning toward the sun.

 

Andrew Bertaina currently lives and works in Washington, DC. His work has appeared in more than thirty publications including: The Three Penny Review, Hobart, Fiction Southeast, Sierra Nevada Review, Apt, OxMag, Prick of the Spindle, Bayou Magazine, Catamaran, and Isthmus. He is currently a reader and book reviewer for Fiction Southeast.

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