Sunday, September 21, 2008

atumnal equinox tomorrow

On this last day of summer, I'm sharing a poem I wrote in 1994 at the same time of year. It's strange to remember how it was when the kids were home, at the start of a new school year.
Also, today is the International Day of Peace. See my sidebar and click for more information.


The tomatoes are sagging to the ground,
red and accusing.
I already had to refrigerate
some overripe ones that stared
at me red-eyed
for a week from the formica.
It is a sin to refrigerate tomatoes
and worse
to allow them to putrefy
on the vine.

For a few brilliant weeks of August
I did my duty to Italian and Mexican sauces,
to Turkish village salad with cucumber
and tomato cubes, onions, parsley, olive oil and lemon juice,
to warm tortillas with scallions,
tomatoes, mushrooms and cheese.
They didn’t ripen quickly enough.
And hadn’t I waited all winter,
spring and summer for this?

But now it is mid-September.
The slanting sun is curling the leaves
of the six tomato plants up
to the sky
like Sunday School children
raising hands for recognition,
not subtly, but nonetheless
ignored in a corner
of the backyard fence.

Today, Saturday, after
a 40-hour week in the office,
the sun insists with all its
clear forgiveness
that I should sit outside,
not out front with the neighbors,
but out back inside the cedar fence
under the mesh umbrella with my back
to the tomatoes.

September is a strangely mixed
month of re-boxing routines
of work, school buses, piano lessons and doctor appointments
into calendar squares
while the air outside is wearing
amber, as if, like honey
it would slow down
the process
if it could.
Flowers are full, better really
than they were all summer when we kept them in order.
And the heavy disarray of ripe tomatoes begs
for indolent days
when stuffing manicotti shells
might fill a morning.

I wonder why someone
would even grow tomatoes
without the permission of Italian, Greek,
Mexican or Turkish time.
Tomatoes aren’t meant
to be rushed
in ripening,
in cooking,
in eating. They are
intended for moussaka and lasagna
and paste that is stored
in a gallon jar under the sink
without a chance of molding:
fresh paste is spooned off every day for a recipe
and a new layer exposed to the air.
In a month the jar is empty.

I deposited six little plants
in June, hoping for a taste, a return
to the old country.
Any old country.
I forgot that behind every taste
hides a little woman or man with shiny red round
The old fruit is bursting the skin
and I am not watching.

- Ruth M. 1994


a said...

Is there NO END to you many talents? love this write perfectly describes the change of season...and I can't tell you how many tomato sandwitches I have eaten in the past couple of weeks slurp! fresh from the vine, sliced on toast with butter a bit of mayo and salt and pepper!

Sandy said...

Ruth this was fantastic! I love the way you write and your words brought me great visuals.

wow, woman...

Anet said...

Great poem Ruth! But now I'm feeling a tad bad about those bright red tomatoes in my backyard. I'll get out there tomorrow and pick them!
Happy Fall Equinox to you and Don!

Loring Wirbel said...

A very tasty poem, but what about canning? That's not cheating, honest.

mystic rose said...

those tomatoes look delicious! You can also make green tomato chutney.
not to mention any number of indian sauces and dishes with them.

The poem is beautiful, very warm and rich, perfect for tomatoes.

Ruth said...

Yum, tomato sandwiches, and yes Indian dishes - which I didn't know about 14 years ago when I wrote the poem, and canned tomatoes (we always say, why can them when you can buy them at the store pretty cheap?).

And Don fries up green tomatoes like you would not believe, the most delicious thing in the world, with the right amount of tang, crispness and savory tender center. WOW!

This year, we have no tomatoes left, we are not in this situation, what is described in the poem did not happen in 2008. For one thing, we kept eating the tomatoes green (because Don is a master chef at frying them) - we had very few ripen, and those were delicious.

This photo was taken our first summer here I think, 2004. The poem was written when Lesley and Peter lived at home, and we were busier than we are now, running them here and there for things. The poem is about guilt and letting it go when you need to just sit. Tomatoes are a metaphor for the things that press in on you and make you feel you should be doing more. September is so beautiful in Michigan, and yet most people are busier than in the summer. For Don and me, the start of the school year makes us busy and tired at the end of the day. But we can sit on the porch and enjoy the soft amber evenings as long as possible.

Ruth said...

I should add, Loring, that I do understand the satisfaction of growing and canning your own tomatoes, knowing how they were raised, etc.

Loring Wirbel said...

I will send you an old 1983 poem, "Corn Borer's Song." I don't want to post on my or your blog, but you might find it interesting...

denise said...

I love poems that weave and flow. Lovely!~

Sandy said...

Ruth, love your new photos over at Flying. What is it about laundry being hung outside on the line. I haven't done that in years, but it brings back great memories of my childhood.

Makes me rethink why I haven't done this.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Denise!

Ruth said...

Oh thanks, Sandy. I have fallen in love with the laundry line, as you can see there. I do like how the holga pictures seem to fit the nostalgia of it. I'm telling you, it is the most meditative thing I do. To stand there in the warm sun, feel the breeze - I feel like a plant growing!

Gwen Buchanan said...

Ruth ... beautiful poetry.. I am so pleased to read some of your work!!! It is so descriptive and so questioning... so funny too!!

Sometimes the productivity of a garden can be overwhelming!!!

Those nasty bossy tomatoes!!!

Ruth said...

Thank you so much, Gwen. Yes, I encouraged Don to start out small this year, because I was afraid a big vegetable garden would become too much. I think he did it just right with eggplants, carrots, beans, radishes, peppers and tomatoes in a different spot. With so much fruit growing all on its own on the property, it is a lot of work to preserve it. Don does most of it, as he is off in the summer, and I chip in here and there. What you and John do is far beyond this, and I admire you for your lifestyle as I've told you before.

Gwen Buchanan said...

The perennial fruit is the best.. I started doing summer gardens the last couple years and pare down each year.. I have a hankering to only plant sunflowers and not much more next year.. they are dual purpose.. beautiful to look at and fun to watch the antics of the blue jays turning upside down to eat them... I must be getting lazy!!
... oh maybe a few tomatoes and jalapenos in the green house and that's it...

Ruth said...

Maybe you caught our sunflower bug: Lesley and Brian's wedding next summer will be nestled in sunflowers, sunflowers, sunflowers. We'll be planting together, and we'll have to compare notes! I imagine your hill there is fantastic for them. We have a lot of shade trees, so it's tricky to locate them for good sun.

laura said...

Great poem, Ruth--nice observations. I cannot resist planting tomatoes--they're all I plant; I feel I'd be missing out if I didn't. Not a great crop this year, but I'm perfecting my fried-green tomatoes recipe: had a big plate of them for dinner last night!

Sharon said...

Oh, metaphor and guilt, what wonderful fodder for art and poetry! You are so right about Michigan's autumn. Hope it is beautiful and long this year. :)

Ruth said...

Laura, well thank you. I like hearing that from a proofreader/editor. :)

You know just tomatoes is my kind of garden. Don is our gardener. I am so pitiful at all things farm. And he keeps perfecting his fried green tomato recipe too! I swear this year they are better than ever. I could eat just those and sweet corn for supper any day.

Do you have southern roots? I think of FGT as a southern staple that many northerners haven't tried.

Ruth said...

Hi Sharon! Yes yes, a little angst is good for art of all kinds, eh what? And as for Michigan autumn, people are asking if it was this nice in the summer? But I think it was. I remember a wonderful summer too. But this week is just stellar.

I hope it's not getting too cold there yet!

Ginnie said...

I never knew about FGT until the movie came out. Talk about ignorance. And we didn't grow up on them in Michigan, even though Dad had a green thumb. You never even mentioned that tomatoes are one of the best foods against cancer, right??

Ruth said...

Oh, I don't know about that, I know cooked tomatoes have lots of goodness.

I swear I remember fried green tomatoes at home once or twice. Hmm.

Bob Johnson said...

Hey Ruth, you have a unique style to your writings, very cool, like reading them, seems to fit well with me. My wife grew some baby tomatoes, love eating them off the vine, so tasty, oh love your tomato shot.

Ruth said...

Bob, you know I feel that way about your writings too, you always make me laugh. Baby tomatoes? I don't know which ones those are, there are so many different size-types now. Don grew grape tomatoes this year. You know this old tomato shot was totally set up by Don. He came into the house and told me he had picked some green tomatoes, so I went out and found them lined up on the Adirondack chair, perfect for this shot.

Rauf said...

Tomato is a good man
Tomato is a nice man also also
Its good that you wrote a poem on Tomato
no one writes a poem on tomato
they must be happy that Ruth wrote a poem on Tomatos
all tomatos are good tomatos
There are no evil tomatos
They all stand united
Greek Italian mexican Turkish and Indian too
they never fight

Ruth said...

Tomatoed they stand!