homage to the tomato: a prose poem

 

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I thought about my father today because the tomatoes are coming into season. Heirlooms, the old ones with the past curled up inside. I love the heft of them, these fleshy female fruits that fit in your palm just so, that one heavy for its size, this one cleft in two, plump lobes so like a heart it almost beats in my hand. Who knows what their names are? Specials, he called them, from Italy. He carried their seeds wrapped in small squares of white linen to America, to the stew of rich earth on Hospital Hill. The ground mist rising, my father plants the seeds grown from what has been, nurtures them to what will be.  Seeds from a distant place, paradiso, before.  I can almost see him in those fabled fields, snow still thick on the peaks of the Apennines, listening to the tread of soldiers tramping through the village and through his head. But old nightmares settle into the soil, even the memory of war erased, as he plants in lines and curves like the graceful handwriting on creamy pages of old journals. I do the same, sow seeds like pearls, see stems rise like delicate pale sprites, dark green leaves curl, unfurl, forks of branches spread out and up. I watch bees pirouette and pollinate the clumsy blossoms -extravagantly yellow- and eye the red sloppy tomatoes, etched with brown scars that zigzag over healed splits like lightning flashes and, on stem ends, sport green bits like vestiges of dragonfly wings. The scent of them ribs the air, these caricatures on sprawling vines, infused with light, decadent crimson and gold, hidden in shy tangles and laced with dew. One calls me over. With a flush of pleasure, I oblige, pick it, and cut a piece. Warm from the blade, I taste its freckled cheerfulness, and decide to leave the poem, following the row across curves of continent and ocean that stretch all the way to paradiso.

 

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