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Cemetery Strawberries; The First Wives by Fija Callaghan

Cemetery Strawberries

The strawberries taste of dead people.

I imagine, when they burst

with flavour on my tongue,

that I can taste the bone ash

of Mᴀʀʏ Hᴀʀᴅᴡɪᴄᴋᴇ, Wʏғᴇ

ᴏғ Rᴇᴠ. Hᴀʀᴅᴡɪᴄᴋᴇ, ʜᴇʀᴇ ᴅʏᴇᴅ

ᴏғ Wᴀʏsᴛɪɴɢ sɪᴄᴋɴᴇss 1622.

These are best eaten fresh,

warmed by morning sun.

Those that grow above the feet

of Wɪʟʟɪᴀᴍ Bᴜʀᴅᴏᴄᴋ, ᴍᴜᴄʜ ʙᴇʟᴏᴠᴇᴅ:

A sʜᴏᴏᴛɪɴɢ sᴛᴀʀ ᴛʜᴀᴛ ғᴇʟʟ ᴛᴏᴏ sᴏᴏɴ,

flower in April and ripen

in May. These are fruits

of simple pleasures, knowing

only halcyon summer days.

They will become garnishes

for cakes, pavlovas, crêpes.

Beneath the yew, between the graves

of Gɪʟʙᴇʀᴛ Sᴡɪғᴛ ᴀɴᴅ Aʟɪᴄᴇ Sᴡɪғᴛ,

Mᴀʏ ᴛʜᴇʏ ғɪɴᴅ ᴛʜᴇ ᴘᴇᴀᴄᴇ

ᴛʜᴀᴛ ᴡᴀs ᴅᴇɴɪᴇᴅ ᴛᴏ ᴛʜᴇᴍ ɪɴ ʟɪғᴇ,

the berries flourish late

into the grassy heat of August.

These I gather in a copper pan

and simmer slow and languid

into cordials and jams.

The Swifts understood

it’s sometimes good

to take things slow.

As I wander harvesting,

the scent of scarlet sweetness

clinging to my skin, I wonder

how I will taste when I decay

below the earth; if I will become

strawberry wine, tartes aux fraises,

a moment between friends;

if someone will sit and dream

in the grass above my bones

and feel my heart’s blood burst

lovingly between their teeth.

The First Wives

Sometimes, at night,

in the space twixt light

and dreaming, she returns

to that narrow room

atop the stairs,

behind the door

with the bloodstained

silver key, and listens

to their stories.

First Wife tells her

that long ago she loved

a farmhand who oversaw

her family’s ancient house.

But she had a future

to think of, sisters

to provide for;

an advantageous marriage

seemed prudent,

at the time.

Next Wife tells her

how she ran away

from a father with insatiable

and deviant desires.

The woods welcomed her

until he came,

this cobalt-tinted man

with seductive stories

of warm meals

by the hearthside.

Third Wife tells her

how he visited their village

seeking matrimonial pleasures,

how women stayed indoors

feigning illness or exhaustion;

but he spied across their garden

two beautiful young daughters

pulling weeds between the beds.

Her mother had to choose

one beloved child to lose,

and one to stay.

It’s been so long

since they had anyone

to talk to;

even rats no longer brave

the scent of rot and blood.

She understands.

She tells them stories, too,

of market days and music,

of drinking summer breezes

off the mountainside;

she weaves the taste of sea salt

and the scents of grass and spices

into silk.

They wrap her words around

their gaping scarlet throats

and remember,

for one moment,

the ecstasy of being.

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