Monday, March 15, 2010

Volunteers: Tomatoes

In January, using compost he had brought to Florida from Massachusetts, J. potted up a juniper plant and set it on the balcony. Today, three months later, he moved the pot from the floor to a table. He was clearing the decks to sweep.

Trailing out from under the armadillo's paw was a green fringe. Not Juniper. At first I thought it was a weed. I lifted the fringe and caught the pungent minty smell of tomato plants. The fringe, composed of at least a dozen and a half tomato shoots, had grown in the compost from a discarded tomato. With a small sharp spoon I pried it up in one clump. The leggy plants had been reaching for more sun.

I wish I had taken a picture of the tangled shoots. Stem, roots, leaves: all tangled. They grew from one small clot to which, on one side, clung a frail papery, pale brown skin. The skin of cherry tomato. Would the stems come apart? Taking care not to break them, I eased the stems away from each other. None wilted. I picked out the largest plants--about five inches long--and planted them up to the hilt. Tomatoes send out roots from the stem.

Some I saved in water.

The rest went into the compost container John will take to our allotment in the community garden.

If I had tried to sow tomato seeds, would they have sprouted so luxuriantly? I don't know. But I treasure these volunteers and will try to grow them on. They will come north with me in April in my carry-on bag.

Right now, after having had a stretch of poems, each quickly generating the next, I am waiting for another poem, waiting longer than I'd like. The tomato seedlings have been growing for two and a half months without any help from us, except water. We didn't know we were watering them. Some fragment--word, dream, memory--I've tossed away may sprout into a delicate fringy green with long white roots. Perhaps I should think of myself not as a poet but a rescuer of poems.


  1. many of my favorite things in one post, mim.
    tomatoes, poetry, miracles...

  2. Perhaps it's time for a tomato poem?

  3. Thanks, Susan!

    T. Clear: I wrote a poem about the volunteer seedlings; the next poem may be about a tomato. I bet you have wonderful tomato recipes.

  4. This post makes me ridiculously happy. Our landlord dug up our driveway and tomatoes spang up from the cracks for no apparent reason and they were the best tomatoes I ever didn't grow.

  5. Sometimes everything is there already, even if one doesn't know it yet. Sometimes I remind myself on this, when I'm on the search for something. Then I hold my breath for a second, and listen very well and look around with aware eyes, and relax. Quite often the search has an end. You can relax and just wait until you're able to see; everything is just there.
    Mim, thanks for reminding me to mention from whom which picture is. I really feel bad that I forgot about it, and I feel shame about it!

  6. Radish, I have high hopes for those seedlings; they have been resilient so far. The smallest ones have now been planted; I'll bring those back to Massachusetts.

    Smilla, not too worry. If I had made the New York Times, I'm sure I would have forgotten something.

    The volunteers are my green for St. Patrick's Day.

  7. Translated from the Chinese: Human good things, it is necessary, such as sponges with water and firmly . . .

    Goodness in us as water in sponges.

    Philosopher Xi Zhu (born c. 1129)