southern apocrypha smeared with duke’s mayonnaise, 1974: A Poem by Evelyn Berry

Hands holding tomatoes
Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

southern apocrypha smeared with duke’s mayonnaise, 1974

presume you bite a tomato the same way a man chomps an apple, cradling the small fruit in his fist & whistling softly through the dawn haze until he bares teeth, sudden juice sprinkling his chin & making sticky the rough beard his wife no longer kisses except to say goodbye or i’m sorry,  as he walks past identical row houses tucked into the ridges outside of town proper, to the mill where he’s worked for fifteen years—he recalls, he first got hired in 1959 & marveled at the cotton bales bulging in the warehouse, that his own shirt was woven from that same textile—for his morning shift, delayed by the throng of workers at the gates, which he too discovers have been locked for the last time, only a small sign to greet them, paint on a plank of cypress.

imagine you slice the tomato &, accidentally stroking blade against palm, begin to bleed like a man who shakes the closed gate & cries out until his tongue becomes a wren’s belly rattling with buckshot, his hands crimsoning as grips rust-wrecked iron, staying until nearly noon after the other workers slink back to their homes, to the bars, to the few cars parked lopsided in the gravel lot.

no, do not conjure a tomato at all.

instead, the tomato sandwich: thick cut beefsteak atop a heaven of duke’s mayonnaise on fluffy white bread. you close your eyes & savor this, like a man who must return home & tell his wife the news, how she kisses him below his lips on his chin, how he searches the cabinet for anything that might fill the day, how he considers the jim beam but instead shakes from the empty bag the last pinch of sugar.

suppose he swallows.

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