2022 Miriam Rachimi
Micro Poetry Chapbook Prize
Third Place Winner
Micro Poetry Chapbook Prize
Third Place Winner
The Legendary Tomatoes of New Jersey
by Ruth Weinstein
by Ruth Weinstein
Ruth Weinstein’s commitment to a life of organic gardening informs her poetry and textile art. Her memoir, Back to the Land: Alliance Colony to the Ozarks in Four Generations, was published in 2020 by Stockton University Press. Her poetry appears in online and print journals.
Review by the selecting judge
Sofia M. Starnes
Sofia M. Starnes
The Legendary Tomatoes Of New Jersey
The legendary tomatoes of New Jersey linger
on the taste buds of my childhood memories,
warm, tart-sweet juice dripping down my chin
and arms right in my grandfather’s garden.
That south Jersey sand could grow
the best asparagus, sweet corn and tomatoes
in the springs and summers of my youth,
back in the 40s and 50s.
I don’t remember the varieties of tomatoes:
little ones shaped like plums which someone’s
Italian grandmother turned into rich gravy
and hunking big slicers we ate with charred,
high-quality burgers and grilled corn.
Green ones and cukes made it into the crock
with dill and garlic from my grandfather’s patch
and once they were fermented just right went
into jars in the old propane fridge. Only the brave
ate grated black radishes on rye or pumpernickel
with Aunt Lena’s butter, sour cream, and cottage cheese.
And then there were my mother and her friend:
the two Sylvias, dark beauties with red lipstick and cigarettes,
canning peaches and tomatoes in the other Syl’s kitchen.
Later, laughing in their orangey-red sundresses,
two hot-tomato young mamas, saviors of summer’s bounty.
The stalks and veins of the Neon Glare chard shout
‘Eat Here, Brightest Chard in Town:
Magenta Moon, Chrome Yellow, Blood Orange,
Their Daughters—Allbright Apricot and Hot Peppermint Pink.’
What’s the pale green Swiss chard to do but fade away
amidst the lettuces, chicory, and delicate herb chervil?
Pity its plainness and cut its limey stalk;
hide it behind the show offs.
And those skinny-ribbed beet greens!
Drab, double duty work horses of the garden,
humble couriers to the golden and ruby globes.
Poor things—yanked, guillotined and tossed
to the compost once they’ve freed their earthy orbs.
Strip all the leaves from the ribs.
Rough chop into two piles.
Sauté separately in extra-virgin olive oil and garlic.
Garnish with the now-not-so-neon ribs.
Sprinkle with sea salt and drizzle with balsamic vinegar.
Eat from the pot on the screened-in porch.
There’s no one here wearing shades.
No one here measuring luminosity.
No one here asking,
‘Where’d you come from? Who bred you?’
A Bone of Contention with The Ghost of
John Lennon over Strawberry Fields Forever
Last year I turned each unripe berry’s curve to the sun,
creeping through a single row; the plants’ red hearts and green
leaves dotted by starry blooms. They were few enough.
There was time for such indulgent care and contemplation.
This year with mother plants settled in rich soil,
the unruly daughters run amok by the dozens,
march-dancing fifty feet in and out of a quadruple-wide row,
their leaves in mudras ecstatic hand jive,
declaring wild passions.
I crawl on hands and knees, between berries and beans,
muttering under my breath, in contention with the ghost of
John Lennon and his audacious vision of Strawberry Fields Forever.
His romantic idyll has become my late spring curse.
I like his music well enough but the concept
of infinite strawberries is appalling.
Forever is married to everywhere.
Eternity walks hand-in-hand
with every arable spot of land.
In our garden those amorous red-hearted girls of spring
spread their juicy sweetness to the cucurbita, threatening
to swallow squash, pumpkins, melons and cucumbers.
We are already sated, our freezer filling, jars of jam stacked high.
Did John Lennon ever fill more than a priceless Japanese bowl
with ripe berries? Did he arrange five of them on an antique
Satsuma plate as Yoko scarred it with diamond drill while they
lay nude together in the fields, making their artistic statements?
Did he ever ache in every joint from picking gallons a day?
Did he wonder how to save them for winter and buy a food
dehydrator, stock up on canning jars and baggies,
consult cookbooks for more shortcake and pie recipes?
Oh, John Lennon, I’m sorry you are dead. If you lived still,
I would invite you to my garden and let you pick from one
row of the ruby jewels—the red berries of passion—
and gorge you and your love on sweetness all afternoon.
A Leafy Love Note
What tune do the dark leaves of broccoli
hum to you as you lift them in search
of thread-like worms loosening them
to lace in our garden’s still morning?
And the peas, as you pick them from the
tendriling vines that entwine us though
I am 1342.6 miles distant from you in
teeming, downtown, brownstone Brooklyn,
what lyrics do they bloom for our long love?
Sing me the hymns of the acolyte lettuces,
the red Romaine and green loose leaf
at prayer always in the pews of rich soil.
And the strawberries—the operatic fruit
of our passion—not yet in the final act?
Taste them on your hungry tongue and share
their ripe arias as we speak tonight by phone.
The row or patch of strawberries makes a cheery
border or square in a botanical quilt.
The blueberries shine in all seasons
as the stars of the edible landscape,
but my artist’s eye treasures the wineberries gone wild:
the calligraphic scrawl of their vines, soft definition
of their leaves and surprise of gentle thorns;
each ruby-colored calyx a crown of tenderness,
clustering in a nursery of red-headed babies.
To pick the jewel-ripe berries, I wrap my legs in leather,
home-made gaiters to protect against copperheads and timber rattlers.
I dress in long pants and sleeves, heavy boots,
and spray my clothes to ward off ticks and chiggers.
I enter the small space of wilderness,
where a false step will send me tumbling onto an old
rock wall covered in poison ivy.
Anyone will pick strawberries or blueberries with me,
the mild tedium and backache broken
by stolen sweetness popped into the mouth.
Few venture into the wineberries, fearful of cautions and thorns.
One did, a beautiful, berry-ripe young woman from the city,
and we waded into the wild.
Three years later, we share, via an imperfect cell phone
connection, our memories of that perfect hour together,
picking wineberries for breakfast.
More Than Beans Are the Black Beans
The black beans—nothing like turtles,
their middle name—are still more than beans.
I could fill one quarter cup and count and
multiply to estimate their number,
but I only stand in a trance, staring at five jars
full of black beans on my counter:
one half-gallon jar, kingly in size;
two quarts, the wives of his majesty;
and one pint, his sole heir.
It is true that all but a handful saved
for planting will be cooked and eaten:
soup or frijoles in a green chili sauce.
I will prepare them in five ways,
honoring the cultures of their origins,
adopting and adapting, hybridizing in the kitchen.
But these beans, perfect parallelograms
of soft-sheen blackness with tiny white omphali,
each slips through my fingers out of the pods
into a bowl, then the jars, parting ways with their
failed fellows, the shrunken ones withered before their time,
the ones that dared to sprout and were plucked and dried;
each bean taking on the sorrows of the world
in a bitter year in a decade of decline.
And each black pillow, a small worry bead
at my fingertips, will soften your sorrows and
still your fears, once cooked and eaten, and
not, I promise you, lie like stones at your heart.
The Peach of Our Younger Lives
Forget “salad days”; leave them to Cleopatra,
who may have been as tender as new leaf lettuce
and baby spinach in her youth.
It was peaches that defined our early days,
newly married and aboard the long barge of our
But though young, we were not that tender.
Our skins, ripped and scratched by bugs
and greenbrier healed while we cut trees
and brush on the hillside, planting
instead the whips of apple and peach trees.
Then only a few years later, our scarred hands
blanched and peeled and canned the fruit.
For a few weeks in summer,
we slipped those silken peels from the globed red havens,
slicing longitudes of sweetness into yogurt
made from the milk of the warm-flanked, yellow-eyed goats.
Hold It! Hold It! you warned, as I held a blender jar atop
a cream separator base—rigged for us by a hungry neighbor
with mechanical inclinations—while you cranked the handle
hard and fast for all you were worth. I could have spun off
anywhere else with all that centrifugal energy but stayed.
The Peach King and Queen of Bohannon Mountain
we were back then, cranking out hand-made smoothies.
Now old, with one peach tree giving wormy fruit
and one apple tree fighting borers, we grow salad,
varieties of tender green and red leaves,
hoisting hope aloft for the long winter.
Harvesting Root Crops
Summer ends dry,
all the soil’s moisture gone.
Harvesting peanuts and sweet potatoes
requires archaeological skills borrowed
from guarded desert sites.
Summer’s end, despite the glorious colors of October,
leaves something inside me gray,
immobile and covered with dust.
But the first sweet potato excavated from hard red clay
lifts the pall that had settled on me.
Something inside flutters, opens my eyes to
orange, leads my tongue along the
broken edge to taste sweetness and soil,
curls my hand along the heft of the tuber,
fills me with the nutrients of hope.
A poem begins shaping itself,
bending and curving the way the stems
in a root-bound pot scramble for best place.
It ruffles the way the leaf margins do,
flirtatious and feminine—and the flowers—
giving off a faint pungency when crushed.
If I would claim the poem,
I must first know geraniums fully,
spend decades with their rioting stems,
profusion of leaves,
sanguinity of color;
choosing which hue gladdens
my winter-laden heart the most
in the sunroom of the house
or climbing stairs with other plants
when carried to the deck in spring
for warmth and sun and rain and air.
For too long I have lived without
the scented ones—Attar of Rose
and lemon. I woke this morning,
sick with an old woman’s longing
for the romance of their fragrance.
In the perennial beds, the last petals
fall from the Cranesbill geraniums
as early ones seed and promise
their many pink kisses for next spring,
while she, the lady of the season, too soon
gives away all her bouquets.
When pawpaws bloom
body vibrates with energy.
If I were a beautiful urbanite
I’d drink May wine, dance all night
with nimble-footed young men,
then have wild sex at dawn.
Now I work beside you
all day in our gardens,
drunk on the fragrance of spirea,
and gorge on asparagus at dinner.