Aug. 25, 2002

Yes, They Had No Tomatoes

by David Citino

(RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Yes, They Had No Tomatoes," by David Citino from Broken Symmetry (Ohio State University Press).

Yes, They Had No Tomatoes

As he carries in two hands
from noon's profusion of garden
a tomato ripe this moment,
warm as a lover's whisper

from the pendulous August sun,
breast-heavy promise of a new world,
bruiseless fruit to brood over,
he wonders again how

in the gleaming blue bowl
of the Mediterranean world
the Greeks, Etruscans, Romans
could grow wise, sloe-eyed, mighty

without knowing the tomato.
Other missing treasures
from America he understands
they could do without,

potatoes, chilies, chocolate-
stolidness, urgency, pleasure.
But a day of summer sun,
an age with no tomatoes!

August 25th is a big day in France. It's the feast day of the nation's patron saint, Saint Louis; it's also the anniversary of the liberation of Paris during World War Two-on this day in 1944, General Charles de Gaulle led his Free French troops into the capital. The German commandant Dietrich von Choltitz had ignored Hitler's order to burn the city and blow up its bridges; instead he calmly surrendered it to the French.

It's the birthday of novelist Martin Amis, born in Oxford, England (1949)-the son of novelist Sir Kingsley Amis. His first novel was The Rachel Papers (1973).

On this day in 1939, the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Technicolor movie The Wizard of Oz was released. Directed by Victor Fleming, it was adapted from L. Frank Baum's novel. Harold Arlen wrote the music; E.Y. Harburg wrote the lyrics. Judy Garland, who played Dorothy, had turned 17 shortly before the picture came out (MGM had wanted Shirley Temple as Dorothy, but 20th Century Fox wouldn't loan her). Ray Bolger was originally cast as the Tin Man, but swapped roles with Buddy Ebsen, who was to have been the Scarecrow; Ebsen then got sick from the metal paint and was replaced by Jack Haley.

It's the birthday of poet Charles Wright, born in Pickwick Dam, Hardin County, Tennessee (1935). He grew up in eastern Tennessee and at a boarding school in North Carolina. He joined the Army for four years, three of them in Italy, and later did post-graduate work at the University of Rome (1963-64). He said, "The two poles in my poems seem to be Italy-especially northern Italy-and my childhood in the American South. I spent a year in Venice … and, in a way, everything I've written since that time seems to me to be influenced by the city. It keeps coming back in my poems, a sumptuousness the city has, like foliage."

It's the birthday of conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein, born in Lawrence, Massachusetts (1918), the son of Russian immigrants.

It's the birthday of cartoonist Walt Kelly, born in Philadelphia (1913), who, for many years, drew a strip called "Pogo." The strip was famous for the language Pogo and his friends used: a mixture of Elizabethan English and black American dialect, spiced with puns and Freudian allusions.

It's the birthday of humorist Bill Nye (Edgar Wilson Nye), born in Shirley, Maine (1850).

It's the birthday of novelist (Francis) Bret Harte, born in Albany, New York (1836). He went west where he wrote the story that made his reputation, "The Luck of Roaring Camp," followed by "The Outcasts of Poker Flat."

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