A poem for August

Every single time I slice open a bright red tomato in the summer, I think of my dad.  Every time I drizzle olive oil on it, sprinkle with salt, pepper, and throw on some basil, I think of my dad.  And when I take a bite of “this muscular red fruit,” I think of my dad.  In fact, just the smell of tomatoes fresh off the vine brings me right back to my childhood home, sitting in the kitchen – 6:30pm or so on a weekday – with my dad just home from work, sharing a big plate of Jersey tomatoes (likely with some crusty Italian bread to soak up the juices) and talking about our day.

So as I sit here at my desk at work, staring at the bright red tomatoes I brought with me for lunch (picked at the farm this weekend with my family), I wait anxiously for the clock on my computer screen to say “12:00” so I can dig in and relive those memories once again.  And in the meantime, I thought I’d share this very special poem.  Happy Summer, Everyone!

Farm Girls Unloading Tomatoes from a Pickup

I stop at the old farm before
going to work, looking for fresh tomatoes
to take for lunch and maybe
a bag of peaches.  In white shirt and tie
(my jacket left in the car) I walk
to the wooden stalls, poking around
the bins of gracious fruit
and the crisp wet greens of rhubarb,
spinach and five or six varieties
of lettuce, loitering in the vegetable shade,
enjoying the flowery scent of melons
and red plums

And through the back
entrance they arrive, lugging in
the bushels of new tomatoes, their tanned
arms straining with the bright weight.
Sixteen, maybe seventeen, hair loose and tangled
from labor, they move, bringing the grace
of flesh into the morning air.  One
is blond, wearing a red sleeveless blouse
and cut-off jeans.  Another, perhaps
the youngest, has on a green tee-shirt
with a large oval hole showing just under
her arm. Now the third one enters,
tall, dark-haired, strong.  She swings her bushel
effortlessly up and lets the big tomatoes
tumble softly into the bin.  I watch as she wipes
her forehead with her wrist, brushing back
her hair as she points and instructs
the others to unload — a line of dirt
marks her brow as she stands catching
her breath. Her white cotton blouse
is open a bit, tied in a loose knot
above her beltless cut-offs.   And I notice,
as she turns, on her bare thigh, the wet
seeds and juice from a crushed tomato.

O Daughters of Gaea! Soiled Graces
of these fading Jersey farms!  I love you
in this moment, the dirt on your hands,
the fertile grit and sweat on your necks —
something of old Hesiod remaining here
in these tailored suburbs this morning
as the cars flash by in the sunlight.
And though I know tonight I’d find you in make-up,
drinking a Coke in front of the Seven Eleven,
or smoking a cigarette in your boyfriend’s
leering Firebird, for now I take you as a vision
and pay for my bag of tomatoes, turning to look
once more as you walk back to the pickup;
knowing when I unwrap my sandwich as my desk,
under the sunless glare of fluorescent lights,
the first taste of this muscular red fruit
will enliven me again with this momentary
fragment of a myth.

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