You Say Tomato

and I could say tomato so many different ways by truly looking at one for today’s poem. The NaPoWriMo Day 24 prompt has asked us to turn to the theme of fruit. “What does it look like, how does it feel, how does it smell, what does it taste like, where did you find it, do you need to thump it to know if it’s ripe, how do you get into it (peeling, a knife, your teeth), do you need to spit out the seeds, should you bake it, can you make jam with it, do you have to fight the birds for it, when is it available, do you need a ladder to pick it, what is your favorite memory of eating it, if you threw it at someone’s head would it splatter them or knock them out, is it expensive . . . As you may have realized from this list, there’s honestly an awful lot you can write about a fruit!” While we may treat the tomato as a vegetable it is actually a fruit. So it counts! The poem might have gone the Wallace Stevens way and degenenerated into 13 Ways of Looking at a Tomato, but in the end, things took a different turn. I also have some actual horticultural experience of trying to rear them here in Ireland, so I have knowledge of their full life cycle from seed to the fork that is poised over my plate.

Tomatoes probably are my favourite fruit. I love my veggies, but fruit…not so much. As a child the only vegetable I spurned for a while were peas. They made wonderful missiles to send across the dinner table at my brother Steve. But I fast grew out of that game and settled down to eating all my greens and leafies with relish. My mother did have to be inventive in ways of getting fruit into me. But there was never any problem with a tomato. Our next door neighbour had an organic garden before it became fashionably sustainable and we were well supplied with gifts left on our picnic table overnight. Here in Ireland I have nurtured them in our polytunnel, but I have to say they are kind of high maintenance. If we have a cloudy summer they may fail to thrive. But the cherry tomato, Sun Gold, does do well and it is like having a sweet shop at the bottom of the garden. They did make it into the poem.

They can look a bit like herds of leggy mini-skirted
girls out on the town, shoulder to shoulder,
carousing around.  Delicate yellow flower buds
attract all the attention.  Give them some air. Their drooping,
unfertile, lateral friends get  snapped off the stem.
There is that distinctive whiff – not quite aroma of mint –
more earth and zesty juiciness as they are culled.
These girls want to salsa, rumba and tango every day.
Of course, this far north we have to hot house them
so they don’t lose their sense of rhythm.
They miss their native heat – and the sunshine.
You have to coax them along to ripen in Ireland
from green to blush and then the boiled lobster face
you want to see on your plates. Yet, sample this one
sweet, sun gold cherry off the vine. Or, if you rather,
a hearty beefsteak slice slathered with mayo, some salt,
a dash  pepper, served up as a white bread sandwich.
Boil pound after pound until they all simmer down
into sauce. Or, as they say in New Jersey, red gravy.
Can it. Bottle it. Sun dry and dehydrate it. Make it into ketchup.
This nightshade cousin is the migrant
that is always welcome, everyone loves,
and wants round to have for supper.
Copyright © Bee Smith, 2020. All rights reserved.

Featured image is a Photo by Rodion Kutsaev on Unsplash