Thomas Alan Holmes

Mulberries

     
   

I hiked a loved trail made of tarmack macadam crust and peered through

undergrowth cove shade of converted abandoned locomotive track, taken

in, a stranger covered by green tint veiled leaf light.

Melissa Helton sat by me at the mulberry-stained iron chairs, companion; we

heard the whisper of the creek, clear and without secrets, ankle-deep by

the coffeehouse seeming made for empathy,

the rounded pebbles on the creekbed smooth as the ball of my writing hand, my

ring and little finger curled to press that fleshy cushion as I fidgeted to

fill lines, discontent in this comfort.

Look at the mulberries, she said, the branches overhanging Gap Creek as full of

berries as the berries were themselves of purple burst, ready for

creatures wary of the patrons.

What is this protocol of fruit and berry trees that no one harvests, food as

ornament,

where once the campus where I work was covered with persimmon and

crabapple, sharp, tart, but filling, so peripatetic professors, snatching

bites, could invite the underclassmen to feed and learn,

where, these past three years, I saw the matronly Latina rescue the near-

windfall peaches from the thwarted tree trapped in a grass strip between

a Papa John’s and the street,

where, in the wet overplenty, I could invite the neighbor children to take what

they could reach before the apple tree’s full branches with their

overburden broke,

not a violation of an orchard or the theft from a roadside garden, I know so

many who give freely of that plenty, glad to share,

but that fruit which dangles freely on a branch above some shallow water,

windwhipped slightly out of reach?

I thought I could taste them, sitting, gazing, dozing in shifting sunlight

and heard Melissa chuckle as she shook her sandals off

and placed her chair down in the shallows, shifting pebbles, spurting four brief

plumes of sediment that drifted quick

and settled yards downstream,

and stood as steady on the wrought-iron seat as if it were a stair; she filled a cup

to brimming, eating berries while she picked and picked, her fingers

pinching stems, except a single berry, slipping, bouncing from chair-arm

lattice to the crystal water that had come from deep within the woods,

that drizzled, dripped, or fell itself, before, then sought itself and joined

and surfaced, traced a bellied bed and streamed, inviting growth and

succor, fresh relief from silence, stillness, dryness, bitter dark,

the berry, rolling in the listless current, resting as it lodged against a gray slate

cleft.

I loosed my heavy boots and rolled my thick socks to my toes; I dropped my

socks inside my boots; I waded to the slate and fished the berry from its

notch.

What caution? Tenderfoot and trailspent, still, retrieving just one bite was

sunlight, beaming down, reflecting up, and sweet,

I felt I’d found some words I hadn’t found.

Melissa laughed, climbed down, and offered me her cup,

and I could not accept it, and I could not voice “thank you,” although she saw

how, grateful, slowly I climbed up the bank

and stuffed my wet but now-socked feet into my “sta-dri” boots.

A gift is not a thing but love, communion of shared affinity, like song catching

some within hearing who cannot help but mouth the words, like

voicedrawn infants who reflect in their expressions those who speak to

them until, at last, they huff and stop their breaths to what inflection

they might master, flat or round, atonal or musical, slightly off key and

out of time like unfamiliar intimacy unfelt until immersed.

     
         
        return to poetry
 

Thomas Alan Holmes, a member of the East Tennessee State University English faculty, lives in Johnson City. With Jesse Graves and Ernest Lee, he recently edited Jeff Daniel Marion: Poet on the Holston (University of Tennessee Press, 2016), and he has creative and scholarly work forthcoming in Appalachian Journal, Iron Mountain Review, and Appalachian Heritage, among others.