Tuesday poem: Ode to tomatoes

ODE TO TOMATOES  by Pablo Neruda

(translated by Margaret Sayers Peden)

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,

on to 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 colour

and cool completeness.

I am surrounded by tomatoes. We are staying on a small organic farm in Umbria, where the tomatoes in the veggie garden (free to guests) are ripe and bursting with flavour, and beg to be picked and eaten. Local friends also arrive laden with baskets of tomatoes, and carefully explain the names and nature of the many varieties. We sun them on the terrace to finish the ripening process and pile them into pretty bowls for a burst of late summer colour – that’s one group of them in the photo above. And we make tomato salads of every kind – with basil and fruity olive oil, with anchovies and pecorino or little black olives, and with toasted breadcrumbs and garlic. We eat tomato crostini with pesto, we bake and braise tomatoes, and still they come.

The most prized local variety, the Cuore di Buo (oxheart) is very fleshy and ripens to a deep pink rather than a red. My favourite variety is the kind which a tomato-loving friend ironically calls Tesco’s Delight because no supermarket buyer would accept such a craggy, lumpy shape. (This sort might officially be called a Roma? I’m not sure.)  But the taste – ah, the taste!

And so Pablo Neruda’s “Ode to Tomatoes” strikes a deep chord right now. I’m amused to recall how many poems deal so happily with food and food memories – William Carlos Williams’s plum poem, “This is just to say” , is just the first that springs to mind. I hope you enjoy this poem, preferably with a good tomato or three to hand. And do have a look at the other Tuesday Poems.

4 Responses to “Tuesday poem: Ode to tomatoes”

  1. mary mccallum Says:

    If I were allowed to take only five items of food to a desert island they would be: tomatoes, oil, bread, cheese, onion. Bliss. Thank you Belinda and I envy you your Italian possie.

  2. admin Says:

    I would agree with your five choices and raise them by one: apples. Really good Cox’s Orange Pippens.

  3. Sarah Jane Barnett Says:

    This is a great poem! I am enjoying being on this side of the world at the moment (in the UK) because of all the fresh fruit and vege.

  4. admin Says:

    Yes, Sarah, you’re in the UK at exactly the right time for great fruit and veg – autumn’s perfect for that. Very glad you like the poem – one of my friends is worried about feeling like a murderer every time she slices into a tomato, though.
    Belinda

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