Vox Populi

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Stephen Dobyns: Tomatoes

A woman travels to Brazil for plastic

surgery and a face-lift. She is sixty

and has the usual desire to stay pretty.

Once she is healed, she takes her new face

out on the streets of Rio. A young man

with a gun wants her money. Bang, she’s dead.

The body is shipped back to New York,

but in the morgue there is a mix-up. The son

is sent for. He is told that his mother

is one of these ten different women.

Each has been shot. Such is modern life.

He studies them all but can’t find her.

With her new face, she has become a stranger.

Maybe it’s this one, maybe it’s that one.

He looks at their breasts. Which ones nursed him?

He presses their hands to his cheek.

Which ones consoled him? He even tries

climbing into their laps to see which

feels most familiar but the coroner stops him.

Well, says the coroner, which is your mother?

They all are, says the young man, let me

take them as a package. The coroner hesitates,

then agrees. Actually, it solved a lot of problems.

The young man has the ten women shipped home,

then cremates them altogether. You’ve seen

how some people have a little urn on the mantel?

This man has a huge silver garbage can.

In the spring, he drags the garbage can

out to the garden and begins working the teeth,

the ash, the bits of bone into the soil.

Then he plants tomatoes. His mother loved tomatoes.

They grow straight from seed, so fast and big

that the young man is amazed. He takes the first

ten into the kitchen. In their roundness,

he sees his mother’s breasts. In their smoothness,

he finds the consoling touch of her hands.

Mother, mother, he cries, and flings himself

on the tomatoes. Forget about the knife, the fork,

the pinch of salt. Try to imagine the filial

starvation, think of his ravenous kisses.

Copyright 1987 Stephen Dobyns.

Originally published in Cemetery Nights (Penguin). Included in Vox Populi by permission of the author.

2 comments on “Stephen Dobyns: Tomatoes

  1. Susan Berlin
    May 14, 2021

    This is one of those poems: Once read, never forgotten.

    Liked by 1 person

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This entry was posted on May 1, 2018 by in Environmentalism, Health and Nutrition, Humor and Satire, Poetry, Social Justice and tagged , .

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