Photography © Karen A. Szklany
a / tomato, / its juice /runs /through the streets.
In the garden department of Home Depot: young tomatoes, stacked in racks at the iron bars of the entrance, signs of a long summer to come. From flat after flat of cheap black pots, vining leaves prickle up, forerunners of the fat red slices we’ll flake with salt, of hot hours babysitting mothers’ bubbling sauces. I’m with Kaminsky. It’s a joy, tomato. The iconic fruit declared vegetable by the U.S. Supreme Court, who weighed in (and you’d be forgiven for wondering why) given the import of import taxes. Justices listened to two other men argue the case—it was 1893—then weighed in. Originalists now return to the Dictionary of the English Language, Samuel Johnson (1755), for definitions worthy of Court. Counsel entered Webster’s and Worcester’s and the Imperial’s as evidence then. That, and testimony from two long-time grocers, abbreviated talk of cabbages and parsnips and peas. A decision came down, as if preordained, to the behaviors of markets, the way tomatoes are prepared and sold. The biological evidence—all those fleshy seeds, the scary strong scent of tomato in flower, a flower that produces fruit—it’s strange fruit, after all, mistrusted. A nightshade. The color of poison, the juice of tomato will eat pewter right off a plate. I read online (so much can be learned in the alternate universes to be found online) the red abominations are crushed for flying ointment, which greases the sticks of brooms, not for sweeping the stoop, no, so she-devils can leave the body, ride to their sabbath. So many other worlds lie just beyond reason, in the surreal, where witches transform into werewolves at night—so they can carry off children for sacrifice, for ritual meals. Creatures of myth embody forms of the sexes and fears, with arms and legs and hungers. Our creatures resemble humans
by half, provide a sense of otherness. Especially witches, not defined persons in a technical sense. Corporations are people, our Supreme Court has ruled. But wastrels of womanhood especially (forgive me) can be burned as if nothing’s at stake. Crushed. Drowned. Name thy favorite Middle Age aggression. Raise the gallows. Gather the mob. A lynching doth soothe the beast.
Tomato grows plump
Smears the politician’s suit
Runs thick in blood’s streets
Jessica Cohn’s poems appear in California Fire & Water: A Climate Crisis Anthology, Rattle, Spillway, and elsewhere. She lives in California after earlier chapters in the Northeast and Midwest.
Karen A. Szklany was born in New York and now lives in a New England co-housing community. She is the author of several collections of poetry, gardening books and Unitarian Universalist sermons. Karen also serves as a Life Healing and Transformation Coach on the labyrinth path.