The Blackberry Boy

by Ruby Katigbak

No briar bush is home to me
Leave roses red, leave roses white
I lie beside the blackberry
Their brambles shield me from the night
I lie here and I wait for her
For summer skies will fade away
I lie here and I wait for her
For brambles will bear fruit one day.

She is a girl of dust and toil
Her eyes are hard, her mouth is set
Here is no stranger to the soil
She kneels on earth, I hold my breath
She takes the first of autumn's crop
The berries ripe, they fall with ease
Her fingers stain a bloody red
And I break from behind the trees.

"Thou mortal girl," I say with scorn
"Thou mortal born, take heed of me
Here you defile both leaf and thorn
Here you deny what's owed to me
For I am guardian of this ground
And I am keeper of this plain
What you have stolen, now repay
Or on this eve, you shall be slain."

"Forgive me, I'm a farmer's child,"
Her mouth is thin, her eyes are stone
"I have nothing to offer you
But blood and flesh, sinew and bone
I've no gold rings nor maidenhead
To lay down softly at your feet
My land's the earth under my nails
My home the stone of filthy streets.

"It's not by chance that I strayed near
Far into wood, far over hill
So seeking you I've journeyed here
For you I've left the turning mill
Our golden fields I've led astray
Our wheat uncut and prey to crows
The wind shakes down the honey-grain
My scythe lies rusting on the road.

"Old stories say you're mortal born
Your blood runs red, and thick as mine
You flush like one who feasts on meat
Your silken clothes are warm and fine
Since Faerie Queen has taken you
How soft your hands are getting now
No hauling water, cutting wood
No calluses to pull the plow."

Walking to me, she took my hand
She stained my wrist with berry red
"And this is what I offer you:
I've come to take your place instead
The Fair Folk, they will welcome me
With milk-white steed, now mine to ride
With bridle bells, gold for my hair
Sleek hunting hounds fast at my side."

I said to her: "You are a fool
Take milk-white steed, take bridle bell
For at the end of seven years
The Fair Folk pay their tithe to Hell
No kin of theirs will they allow
To take the blade, to pay the round
So at the end of seven years
Your mortal blood will slake their ground."

She did not back away from me:
"Now readily, I'll pay that toll
For seven years I shall live fat
For seven years I shall live whole
No wooden plow will break my back
No summer sun will burn my cheek
And at the end of seven years
I'll play the lamb, I'll bow down meek."

I said: "Your blood for my blood then
For milk-white steed, for bridle bell
And take you now my silver cloak
To keep you warm in icy Hell
And take the heavy golden chain
That Faerie Queen has given me
'Tis yours to wear, so bright and fair
And your yoke, if you set me free."

I bade her eat the blackberries
From sour green, to dark and tart
Her hands bled on the bramble thorns
And Faerie magic stole her heart
And now I ride no milk-white steed
All shod in silver, shod in gold
I walk the road in peasant's coat
I toil for bread in bitter cold.

But sweet's the life been given me
Seven new years, and more beside
For summer sun to line my face
For evenings by the winter tide
With stars all strewn as free as grain
A harvest hung upon the night
No bramble thorns to pierce my sky
No blackberries to steal my light.

Ruby Katigbak has a love-hate relationship with her writing, which is rivaled only by her love-hate relationship with her cat. She has too many hobbies she wants to chase after, and a guitar gathering dust. In the dead hours of the night, she ponders such esoteric questions as: "Why are Redcaps immune to iron?" and "Are elves secretly responsible for those socks that get lost in the dryer?"

For her, the word "cherry" fails to bring any particular poem to mind. Her thoughts make the leap from "cherry" to "ice cream sundaes," then they meander down the road to "gelato," find a nearby cafe, and refuse to leave.

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