By Kindra McDonald (PDF view)
 
I watch him garden in the perfectly
symmetrical raised bed he made
last April. It’s the tomatoes
he’s working on, transplanting
a small seedling
handling only the leaves,
(If you handle the stem and damage it,
the plant will be stunted).

 
Watching him reminds me I forgot
my plant on the windowsill
each dying leaf scolds me with a brown
crooked finger. He makes things grow
with all he’s learned in Greenthumb Guidebooks.
Tomatoes were the “Apple of Love” when
first found edible,
(for years people thought
they were poisonous).

 
I stare at him bent backed over a cauldron
of plants as if he’s chanting over a deadly brew.
They grow like imprisoned scarecrows, their leaves sticking up
through their wire house. His ritual of staking,
twine strung from sticks overhead like
primitive musical instruments.
(It keeps stalks from breaking with their burden of
heavy fruit).

 
I can’t shake the thought:
Who ate the first tomato if everyone
thought they were poisonous?
As his tomatoes grow I think of this history
of poison and I’m nervous watching him tenderly
touch the Small Fry Cherries, Early
Girl, Better Boy and Sunray Mediums,
Roma Plum and Beefsteaks
(They grew ripe and vibrant and untasted for
more than 500 years).

His tomatoes thrive. I kill things
from neglect and disinterest I let them die.
My tomatoes would have skin
imperfections from improper care
during temperature changes, split skins
from irregular watering, aphids running rampant.
His glow glossy, picked tender when they’re newborn
pink right before the frost and wrapped in individual
newspaper cradles to ripen indoors. Mine forgotten
after first freeze, die of frostbite or hypothermia so
strong an amputation couldn’t save them. But I learned
something from my books too.
(Tomatoes are cousin to Nightshade, the Devil’s plant
needs no special care, no cultivating, watering or tender handling).

 
With my black thumb I plant it at the back fence
it flourishes under the shade of trees, on chalk or
limestone. Thick roots fleshy and white with
leaves so potent a single taste can kill. Disreputable
family of poisonberry and tobacco, this poison hides
under lovely lavender blooms. Even I could grow
this. So who was first to taste the tomato?
What disgruntled lover handed
a glossy piece to his unknowing bride
and woke amazed to find she still lay
breathing beside him?
(It was Nightshade that made the tomato so misunderstood
it was dubbed “Apple of Sodom”).

 
First August harvest, he comes inside to feed me.
Presents a Big Boy to me as if offering a shining
apple. My bite is shy as sweet juice
runs from my mouth, caught at my chin with his kiss.
This gift he gives, I savor and swallow. What trust love is.
With each bite I vow to bury the Nightshade
if he remembers not to handle my heart by the stem.
 
 

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