It was during my first summer living in Switzerland that I began to fully appreciate the diversity and bounty of the world of the simple tomato. There was a barn on the shore of lake Zug which served as home to a little shop of earthly delights. The Biohof, it was called, and as you wound your way up the drive and onto the farmland, there was a sense of old world, otherworldliness which beckoned your soul into a future you could not yet imagine. From the feast of abundance of summer, to homemade preserves which heralded the fall of Fall, to the uncomfortable lack of variety of fruits and vegetables which cued an expat that winter in the land of local was not to be taken lightly, the Biohof became a favorite haunt of mine. It was a relief after the facade of nutrition and sustenance offered by Waitrose or Sainsburys in London. There were no plastic wrappers suffocating edible flora here. No skin of petroleum protection to be scrubbed off at the kitchen sink. No pruning of the ugly ones before their more aesthetically pleasing brothers and sisters were laid out for the discerning eyes and fingers of the consumer who knew no hunger. No judgement. Just the understanding that earth, water and eight minute old sunlight had the ability to awaken the magic contained in each seed sitting in it’s dark womb, so that life might erupt above and below the surface of the soil, and through some mysterious alchemy offer itself up so that our lives might be preserved. There was no sense of the hunt here. This was the domain of the gatherer. And as we dusted the earth off of dinner, we longed to feel the same under the soles and souls of our feet.
The tomatoes sat in a dark corner of the barn. A fitting spot for the rainbow of nightshades. They seemed to be determined to shine their way out of the dark and the cacophony of color seduced me into their lair. I do not eat tomatoes. Have not done so for years. But I am attracted to the light, and there is not much that can keep me from basking under a rainbow, while the thunder rumbles, lightning cracks like a whip across the sky and the the rain refuses to descend to the ground to wash away my grief. And so I stood before the wooden trays, heavy with a round, soft deliciousness which had no choice but to bleed joyfully once pierced by teeth. Each had cried as silently as the other when plucked from it’s mother plant, and each sat here now whispering beyond my ears it’s desire to go home. “Take us home,” they hummed. “Bite into our flesh, that we may release our tears, and through you, be returned to the earth.” I closed my eyes so that I could listen more closely to their song. So familiar it seemed. It rocked and soothed a part of me which I had not known needed to cry. In the darkness behind my eyelids I could see clearly. Yellow, orange, red, purple, green, brown. Skin. That eight minute old sunlight was playing tricks with us all, allowing parts of her to dive deeply into the core of each sentient being and other parts of her to be reflected back out into the world. Color. Our eyes, each an i of the I, drank this color up thirstily and sent it back to our brains, where the programs of the ancestors interpreted it through the lens of polarity. What is your favorite color? Yellow? Blue? More specifically, the aquamarine of the pure, unspoiled Caribbean sea of your pre-colonial dreams? No one ever answers ‘brown’. My children ask, “Is white a color? And what about black?”. We discuss and explore the visible spectrum of light and the blessing and curse of sight. They love art. Our house if filled with their paintings, only some of which I have framed and hung, as we have run out of wall space. Their skin shines an olive blessing in the summer and retreats to a pale, famished whitish-yellow in the winter. “Is white a person? And what about black?”. The song of the tomatoes keeps echoing in my ears as I reach out to pluck a few of them so that my husband and daughter can honor their desire, and transport them back to the earth.
On the dinner table the rainbow sits, a part of the last supper. Whether pierced by steel, silver or enamel, each bleeds as silently as the other, and we hold hands, knowing that we are all walking each other home.
Know that the day I took you from your land, and forced you beneath the deck and into the hold, and closed my heart to your trembling and dread, this was the beginning of our journey home. And the night that I threw myself off of the bow, it was because I was too scared to continue to walk with you. And when you paid money for my body, and that of your cattle, I found the strength to keep going. And when my whip sliced through your back, and you fell to the ground, I picked you up so that we could continue together. And when you raped me, branded our child and inhaled deeply as his flesh burned, I asked my baby to walk with us. And the night I tied the rope around your neck and left you swaying under the oak tree, it was because I had no words for the pain I felt in my soul; and as I had stolen your humanity, I was offered no recourse other than to strip myself of mine. Know that the day you sliced my grandmother’s belly open, and my mother fell unto the grass, I was there, and I wept because you had denied me the right to breathe the sweet air, sit in the sunshine, feel the dirt between my toes, and lie by the river with you. And the day you set me free, I wished to die. I put one foot in front of the other and began to walk away from you. Before the sun set I felt the familiar weight of shackles on my feet and a shovel in my hand. And so we continued to walk.
Many moons have slipped between us; each reflected in the waters of our collective grief. These rivers of tears that flow endlessly toward the ocean. Endlessly toward home.
Know that the day my baton landed upon your skull, I felt each blow deep inside my brain, demolishing the foundations of my father’s belief system. Know that my great-grandfather set Los Angeles on fire. Know that I heard you coming up my front door steps, and breaking down the door you assumed to be my neighbor’s, and yet I lay peacefully in my bed, weary of this journey and humming the song of my grandmother, who now sings to herself and longs to find me again in the earth. And the day you sat in the back of my car, as the siren lights caressed the life out of your brother’s body, I knew you would never forgive me for seeing a toy real, and I would never forgive your eyes for crying my tears. Know that I regret the day I pulled my hood up over my head and went for a walk; and that as my skittles spilled to the ground and were bathed in red, candy would lose it’s sweetness in the mouth of every child. Know that your voice echoes in my dreams. You had a license to carry a firearm, you were not carrying a firearm. I was. And the weight of four hundred years pressed the trigger and millions watched as both of our lives bled away. Know that as the weight of your body bore down on my neck, and I begged for the life of every one of my forefathers, we were twins in the womb with the umbilical cord wrapped tightly around both of our necks. And the light that bathed us both, as I cried desperately for our mother, had left the sun eight minutes ago. And as I exhaled for the last time, you and I and everyone of us on this earth took one more step toward home.
Naked together we stand. Nothing less than human we walk. Let us return to the earth together.