Jen Hirt


Jen Hirt’s memoir, Under Glass: The Girl With a Thousand Christmas Trees, won the Drake University Emerging Writer Award for 2011. Her essay “Lores of Last Unicorns,” published in The Gettysburg Review, won a 2010 Pushcart Prize. Her essays have also received the 2012 Gabehart Prize for Nonfiction from the Kentucky Women Writers Conference, an Ohioana Library grant, a Pennsylvania Council on the Arts grant, Pushcart Prize nominations, and a notable essay mention in Best American Essays. She has work forthcoming in Redivider, The Sonora Review, Confrontation, and Triquarterly, and has recently collaborated on a video essay, “Hollow Snake,” with artist Stephen Ausherman. She is an assistant professor of creative writing at Penn State Harrisburg.

Too Many Questions About Strawberries

are posed by old women at the farmer’s market and it’s about time someone said it, because in the minutes lost on inquiries about ripeness and sweetness and origin, I could have married berries with rhubarb and raw milk and jersey cow yogurt, could have sliced them like geodes, quartered them like cordwood, tossed tops to my begging brown dog, could have moved on to eviscerate cherries and syrup the blueberries and drain the sangria pond where the old women stand mud-logged, unsure whether to purchase this pint now or that quart later, plus there is the price (a problem).

You’d think they were as expensive as rubies.

But at the u-pick farm, a teen tells me that the old women awake in the 5 a.m. insomnia of strawberries ask only what time the gates open. Something is always riper today than yesterday, and yesterdays stretch behind them like shadows, and berries left to ripen mean someone will be alive tomorrow to pick them, so they will be at the gate and bend at daybreak in their long sleeves, their slacks, their orthopedics, their hatshade even though dawn is barely dawn, no questions asked, because to pick your own is to be wise and alive, to know by sight and experience which one is scarlet all around, the perfect route for Magellan to the center of a pie.

Maybe strawberries are about feeling young again.

But then why do my knees ache when I’m not even halfway through my u-pick row, why does a little boy scream a tantrum, spitting at his grandmother as slugs steal the distraction to attack sanguine hearts? White flags mark the rows picked clean, (as if anything were ever dirty with strawberries, as if surrender), and over my half-filled quarts I remember my own grandmother, Ohio sundress, at her garden’s edge on knees never aching, white plastic colander like a roller rink of garnets tilted toward my hand and while we eat the embryos of fragrance (why do strawberries smell so good?) the sunset pours all the world’s Bordeaux to celebrate how the only answer to questions about strawberries is yes.

The writing of ‘Too Many Questions About Strawberries’ started with an actual visit to a Pennsylvania strawberry farm, where a young employee made the comment about old people waiting at the gate. Later, at a farmer’s market, I noticed how an elderly woman was asking question after question about a pint of strawberries, and then she didn’t even buy any. I toyed with how to contrast the oddly confident gate-waiters with the skeptical customer, (even made Facebook posts regarding strawberries and the aged), and eventually came up with this prose poem.