by David J. Rothman
A small seed hitched a ride in my left ear.
It did not lodge in the canal but rather
Tucked itself into the complex lips
Behind the helix where it meets the concha,
Fossa triangularis and anti-helix,
To turn sound back upon itself and guide it
From the greater world to eardrum, hammer,
Anvil, stirrup, snail-shaped cochlea
And tiny hairs that send indifferently
Subways, Muddy Waters, ugly speeches,
Bad ads and good, with murmurings of rivers
And lovers to the brain for processing.
When I dug it out, I felt and saw,
Astonished with the sting, that this salt seed . . .
Probably from one of 7,000
Of the Solanum Lycopersicum,
The swelling fruit, first found high in Peru,
From which it traveled Mesoamerica
By the name “tomatl” in Nahuatl,
Which also gave to Spanish and then, later,
Lodging in the mongrel ear of English,
“Coyote,” “chocolate,” “avocado,” “chili,”
And in the 1750s described
As fruit that’s often eaten either stewed
Or raw by Spaniards, Jews, Italians and
Other low types, but then gaining ground
As the love apple, dripping, juicy staple,
Introduced here first by Jefferson,
Who held its truth to be self-evident
The year the Bastille fell, a date that now
Combines in my mind’s ear with ripe tomatoes,
A nice collation because “ratatouille”
Comes from the Occitan, meaning “to toss . . .”
Where was I? Oh yes, when I dug it out
I felt and saw, astonished with the sting,
That this salt seed . . . whose Latin name marks it
Related to the poisonous alkaloids,
Cousin to nightshade, plump thing with a navel,
Wolf peach that brings somewhat narcotic solace…
I say I saw this waxy, stubborn seed,
This dirty, cunning, powerful dark vessel,
This blind, parasitic, salad exile,
Opportunistic voyager of chance,
Tenacious, stubborn, tough, determined,
Extravagant, exuberant invader,
Budding conquistador of my sweet flesh,
Had not been resting in my ear for but
A couple two-three days, but more . . . a week?
What is that thing? A string? Good God! A root!
Who knows how long, crossing the earth with me
And waiting patiently for fertile dirt,
A little sunshine and a little water,
Although apparently it felt I’d do.
I have no doubt that if I had expired
Before I scraped it out and learned its secrets,
Holding it between the index finger
And thumb of my left hand as I went strolling
To work that crisp September morning, it,
Surrounded by signs of impending autumn,
Would have gone for broke, taken its one
Ambitious, gene-encoded, vital chance
On what one day each one of us becomes,
And a green, fuzzy vine would have aspired
Out of my head, its curled and kinky truth
Trailing to my glorious shoulder like
The locks of Dionysus, though I’d bring
No grapes, but, drawn in a gold chariot
By tigers, would return disorderly,
Triumphant and ecstatic, with tomatoes,
From someplace far beyond the ordinary.
Before, I did not listen to tomatoes.
I had not realized how much they have
To say, nor did I sleep on them and yet
That cunning seed attached itself in silence
Like a burr to a red fox’s pelt
Or pit transported in the sated gut
Of some plump, clumsy, orchard-raiding bear.
Happy to be potentially of use,
Although simultaneously happy
Not to be of that much use just yet,
I stopped and rolled the seed between my fingers,
Savoring its smooth, hard, grey-brown shell,
Its little, ghostly, sperm-tail wisp of root,
The fat vitality and recipes
All waiting there, just waiting, waiting there . . .
And then I flicked it off into the grass
Not unlike the very dart of love,
Blessing it with tender obscenities,
And kept on walking.
Copyright © 2013 by David J. Rothman.
“Salt Seed” appeared in Cellar Door 9.2 (Spring 2013): 125-127
(Knox College, Galesburg, Illinois).