Jam jar summers

This poem is in response to the Real Toads prompt, a place evoked as a person or vice versa. I suppose fish count as people.

I found this picture on Wikimedia Commons (©Bill Henderson), taken in August 2007, of Batley park lake where I used to fish on Saturday afternoons. In August, when I was a kid, it would have been teeming with hundreds of us, and not an adult in sight. This is uncanny. Times change and children now have other, safer things to do.



Warm, never hot,

those jam jar summers,

the busy town park,

cool, green, water-weeded lake,

and dark rhododendrons in dusty exotic glory.

Minnows were tiddlers,

rainbows the most prized,

twisted and curled,

bright ephemera in their prison—

summer sun,

trapped in a jar, fish-full.

Park lake noise

of boys

scrambling up the cascades of the fountain

to the ice cream stand.

Finding the places where the tiddlers hid

in the shadows we titans threw,

the nets plunged, chased.

Fish eyes glinted and tails swished,

green water rippling where the swans passed by.

Turning and twisting,

silver-scaled summer drifted,

park lawn-smooth and unruffled,

and the jam jars always ready

with green twine for handles.

We carried them home,

slop-full of silver treasure,

that faded and died, slowly,

like the thick smell of privet

and the ice cream van jingles

into a past,

blazing with water glitter

seen through a fisheye lens.


Published by

Jane Dougherty

I used to do lots of things I didn't much enjoy. Now I am officially a writer. It's what I always wanted to be.

32 thoughts on “Jam jar summers”

  1. Is it memory that erases the heat, or adulthood which adds it? This place in the poet, like a fresh spring at the back of the mouth, is precise and rich with “silver treasure” far beyond the minor cruelty and triumph of such a day’s take. That is has been erased from all but memory (I read recently that doctor’s visits by kids suffering from online-induced miseries has surpassed those from kids falling from trees) makes the poem of inhabited space that much more precious. Gone, but not lost, and we know now where to find the poet on fine warm days, at least in the reading.

    1. Thank you, Brendan. These places of childhood are difficult to revisit when we know they have changed utterly. I’m certain the children who clambered alongside the park lake with their nets and jars didn’t need attention from shrinks afterwards, so it can’t have been all bad.

      1. Maybe less concerned to be in control of the groups they mix with. City parents only leave their children out of their sights in controlled environments.

      2. We didn’t go around alone if we could help it, but that was because Irish Catholic kids got beaten up, not because of adult nutcases. It led to another form of self-reliance though, judging a situation, keeping out of the way of potential danger, and making quick, silent exits!

      3. If you’re brought up only ever coming into contact with pink fluffy bunny rabbits and their human equivalent, you’re going to have a bit of a culture shock when mummy and daddy finally let you loose in the real world!

      4. I just looked up resikie. Seems to be Turkish… It’s not just here, I’m sure, but the number of kids who see the shrink because something’s not quite right at home is phenomenal. The answer to everything—you’re getting divorced? Send the kids to the shrink and you’ll feel less guilty about it. Mad.

  2. I remember summers like that. My nan used to take me to a local pond with net and jar. Granddad couldn’t go that far from home. And it was always warm, never hot.
    I especially love the lines:
    ‘summer sun,
    trapped in a jar, fish-full’
    ‘Turning and twisting,
    silver-scaled summer drifted,
    park lawn-smooth and unruffled,
    and the jam jars always ready
    with green twine for handles’.

    The ‘thick smell of privet’ and ‘ice cream van jingles’ took me back to my childhood, so real I had tears in my eyes, Jane.

    1. The smell of privet does that to me too, Kim. It’s been decades since I smelled it, and I find it grows along the riverside here. It’s in full stinky bloom at the moment 🙂

    1. It’s a very British Isles experience, and it looks from the photo as though it doesn’t even happen there anymore. Can’t see many ducks or swans either, and certainly no boats.

    1. Reasonably traumatic probably, being caught and chucked back after a day in captivity. The tiddlers always caught that fungus that starts round the gills. We never had to wit to realise that they all ended up horribly dead.

  3. You do a very good job of listing summer items in great detail. Someone above mentioned that this is a vivid memoir and I would concur. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Interesting, jam-jar season. So many uses for those! I don’t know where this is, but grew up next to a creek with much fishing and actually developed a bit of a phobia of fish hooks, strangely enough. This captures well the energy I remember, very nice.

    1. Thank you, Marian 🙂 This was in Yorkshire, small town and no fish hooks. All fishing was with nets in the park lake and nothing bigger than a minnow was available 🙂

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