The Tomato Sheds Its Own Light

Wednesday

We have started to harvest a few tomatoes from our small rooftop garden, which gives me an excuse for sharing Pablo Neruda’s luscious “Ode to Tomatoes.” (Thanks to my mother for alerting me to the poem.) Tomatoes originated in Neruda’s part of the world, the Andean culture that also gave us corn and potatoes. When a street is filled with tomatoes, Neruda writes, it’s as though the summer light is cut in half, with its redness running down the byways. The tomato, he observes, sheds its own light.

The tomato’s “fiery color” brings summer even to December tables, appearing a “recurrent and fertile star” that

displays
its convolutions,
its canals,
its remarkable amplitude
and abundance…

Containing “no pit,/no husk,/ no leaves or thorns,” the tomato, Neruda informs us, offers us

its gift
of fiery color
and cool completeness.

When paired with the onion, another vegetable that has received a Neruda ode, the tomato is like the featured celebrity at a sacred union. To be sure, we must first sink a knife into its “living flesh,” but what we get in return is “the wedding of the day.”

Among other things, poetry adds to our gustatory experience.

Ode to Tomatoes

The street
filled with tomatoes,
midday,
summer,
light is
halved
like
a
tomato,
its juice
runs
through the streets.
In December,
unabated,
the tomato
invades
the kitchen,
it enters at lunchtime,
takes
its ease
on countertops,
among glasses,
butter dishes,
blue saltcellars.
It sheds
its own light,
benign majesty.
Unfortunately, we must
murder it:
the knife
sinks
into living flesh,
red
viscera
a cool
sun,
profound,
inexhaustible,
populates the salads
of Chile,
happily, it is wed
to the clear onion,
and to celebrate the union
we
pour
oil,
essential
child of the olive,
onto its halved hemispheres,
pepper
adds
its fragrance,
salt, its magnetism;
it is the wedding
of the day,
parsley
hoists
its flag,
potatoes
bubble vigorously,
the aroma
of the roast
knocks
at the door,
it's time!
come on!
and, on
the table, at the midpoint
of summer,
the tomato,
star of earth, recurrent
and fertile
star,
displays
its convolutions,
its canals,
its remarkable amplitude
and abundance,
no pit,
no husk,
no leaves or thorns,
the tomato offers
its gift
of fiery color
and cool completeness.
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