Rethinking the Tomato

Michael Gamer


begins on a train to Athens
out of Madrid in 1954,
when my mother and Glenna Overton
lost their seats in Geneva,
over the small matter
of a bank holiday and a lack
of proper currency.  She assures me
it was the absence of potable water
that muted the Yugoslav landscape

and left the back of her throat
edged with the yellow tint
of morning sulphur, a film
of stations' tobacco fogs
and the permeable smell of raw

                    She thinks back
to Greece as she picks basil
in her garden, on days when the Santa Anas
change the entire context of leaves
until you almost have to stop
and count them—as if
entire layers of old varnish had to be
stripped to the green
by a freak of desert weather,
by winds abrasive enough
to sandblast paint down to primer,
blow rusted skies back
to Athens, to the metallic blue
morning of her arrival.

Her purchase right off the train
at the vegetable stand
that day, after seventy two hours
of standing hibernation, had produced
its own tabula rasa,
how it dripped down
her arm when she bit into it, pulp
and acid etching new definitions
of red, has spawned
thirty years of well-staked summer projects,
the case of each season's ripening a new glance,
its own meditation on that moment of travel,
that rapture of the seemingly perfect,
singularly ripe tomato.