Poem of the Week | September 19, 2022

This week’s Poem of the Week is “Blackberry Jam” by Sunni Brown Wilkinson.

Sunni Brown Wilkinson’s most recent work is featured or forthcoming in On the Seawall, New Ohio Review, Western Humanities Review, Sugar House Review, and South Dakota Review. She is the author of The Marriage of the Moon and the Field (Black Lawrence Press, 2019) and The Ache & The Wing (winner of Sundress Publications’ 2020 Chapbook Prize). Her work has been awarded New Ohio Review’s NORward Poetry Prize, the Joy Harjo Poetry Prize, and the Sherwin W. Howard Award and was runner-up for the Ruth Stone Poetry Prize. She teaches at Weber State University and lives in northern Utah with her husband and three sons.


Blackberry Jam

There’s a baby in the garden, dimpled
and kicking in the stroller in the shade
that stretches over Laura’s yard

like the longest motherly fingers
on an August afternoon.
Out West, we’re throat-deep

in smoke, drought. A single rainstorm
all summer, and somehow there’s a wall
of blackberries we kneel at,

reach toward, speak through,
ask how was your summer?
My sons ring the stroller

and gawk, point to the baby’s toes,
look how small. Fist as big
as a blackberry.

What we pick and drop
into the old ice cream bucket
is also dimpled, pleated

in a purple violence,
thick as your thumb and muscled.
The blood of it stays

on our hands all day
like Lady Macbeth’s, carnage
of berries, the red-telling of ache.

Days later I coax cups of sugar
and berries into foam on the stove,
and the spit from the pot

feels mean and Victorian
in its purse-lipped slap.
I wrangle magma into glass,

that sickly-sweet brew, the sting of it
on my knuckles and up my bare
and freckled arm.

Contained, it’s still chaos,
a color that can’t make up
its mind: puce of a courtier’s

dress, scarlet of Napoleon’s cuff.
Cerise, burnt umber,
the deep wine of a baby’s lips.

Later, when I unscrew the ring,
hear the pop of the lid,
I’ll taste smoke and tang

and the strangeness
of being a woman, alive,
loving every bright thing.

All of history in this jar –
fruit and womb and all that’s spilled


Author’s Note

Every year I find fruit somewhere – blackberries in friends’ backyards, apricots on the canal road I walk weekly, raspberries from a neighbor’s garden – and turn the fruit into jam. It’s an almost mystical process and feels ancient: the gleaning and preservation of food in your native area; the alchemic process of turning an albeit soft “solid” into a viscous, almost liquid form; lining the basement storage shelves with brightly colored glass jars, like some wizened apothecary’s stash. And every year it feels like good work, a tending to the earth and to capturing what sun, season, rain, and soil gift us odd and relatively clueless human beings. I don’t know how we don’t marvel at it more.

I also believe in the holiness of the domestic, and “Blackberry Jam” is more or less a love letter to that. Not just gardening and cooking, but tending to anything that creates art and beauty, efficiency and attention in our living spaces. Even the zen work of laundry. Whatever sustains us and creates comfort and “home.” My mother and grandmothers (and generations of women before them) did their canning every year in their own Formica or tile or carpeted kitchens, and continuing that tradition feels like passing through ritual. But isn’t that what domestic duties have always been? A connection to place and the generations before us. Not that I feel that way every time I cook another mediocre dinner or iron yet another collared shirt, but there’s something timeless in that work. And every now and then I feel in my bones how old it is and how the whole human story has depended on it.