Slow-Cooked Sentences

Summer flesh

Rachael Conlin Levy
If the woman wants to be a poet,
she must dwell in the house of the tomato.
Erica Jong.
First tomato
Red zebra tomatoes courtesy of Dance in the Kitchen.

While I was at the seashore, sizzling hot temperatures at home caused my vegetable garden to explode, and upon my return I was greeted by waves of rainbow chard, giant zucchini and the summer’s first tomato, a red zebra, rosy with yellow stripes. The season’s first tomato is cause for celebration in my family, where we eagerly watch the vines and stroke the warm globes as they ripen and turn red. I’d waited 55 days to enjoy this.

Children’s author and illustrator Rosemary Wells is another who knows how a tomato deserves a party (and who, incidentally, grew up on the New Jersey shore where my family spent the last week vacationing). In “First Tomato,” which is part of her tiny trilogy “Voyage to the Bunny Planet,” she writes: “It smells of rain and steamy earth and hot June sun. In the whole tomato garden it’s the only ripe one. I close my eyes and breathe in its fat, red smell. I wish that I could eat it now and never, never tell.”


I sliced our first tomato thickly, sprinkled it with sea salt and served it to my family with ceremony. And when the last slice was divided and consumed with relish, I sneaked back into the kitchen and licked the cutting board of gelatinous juice — anatomically, speaking, the placenta. I slurped up the tomato caviar, tangy, slippery sweetness mixing with the woodiness of the cutting board, then wandered to the bookshelf where I pulled down “Fruitflesh” by Gayle Brandeis, whose book links the act of writing to the heart and the tongue, and offers writing exercises to wake up both the body and the writing. There I found a part of a poem by Portuguese poet Maria Teresa Horta, who was jailed in the 1970s for her explicit poetry:

I am lost to time
I am lost to time

enclosed in my
fruit
with breath inside

Breasts are obvious fruitflesh.
“We humans are nothing more than soft machines built to sustain impossible longings, endless desires. We recognize these things by the sense of yearning they produce: stomachs rumble, hearts ache, minds search lips parch,” writes Kim Adrian in a recent Tin House cover essay “How to Buy Peaches.” “But to nurse is to be overfull, overripe, literally leaking with that which some else both needs and desires.”

My belly after three pregnancies is a ripe fig, yielding, wrinkled. Then there are rounded shoulders and full hips, but what of elbows, toenails, tongue? Author and illustrator Shelley Jackson invites us to explore her body and the result feels like lovemaking.

“I have a gold ring through the little lip of flesh at the bottom of my belly button,” Jackson writes. “When I am writing, I lock myself to my desk by a chain through my navel ring. Otherwise I would get up every five minutes to clip my toenails or refill the ice trays.”

Go check out her tomatoes.

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One response to “Summer flesh”

  1. kyndale says:

    beautiful writing. I love all the links too!

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