Precise Tomato Orientation and Other Poems


Holly Burdorff

Art by Gabe Brown


It Has Always Been, It Will Always Be

Behind the actors, the extras.
They’re mouthing peas and carrots,
peas and carrots. Again, again.
A river of vegetables,
dammed by silence
into teeming lakes.
But dams do break.
So do levees, plates,
collarbones, condoms.
After he wriggles his brow,
hooked worm in high tide,
and asks about Roe,
I say my usual joke:
if the water’s shallow,
get out and wade,
but if it’s deep,
grab the oars.
These days I add:
once ashore,
search for the seeds
of the wild white doilies,
Hippocrates’ morning-after pill:
Daucus carota, wild carrot,
or Queen Anne’s Lace.
And this book says
another ancient society
perhaps ate peas
as contraception.
Wild carrots, possible peas.
This, how it has always been
and how it will always be:
find us mouthing peas and carrots
peas and carrots in the meadows,
fretting in the freezer aisles,
foraging our freedoms,
extras of our very own lives.


Precise Tomato Orientation

Used napkin thrown at my neck. Wet.
A man’s talon in my shoulder. Hot breath.
Remember to be kind. Every customer. Smile
within twenty feet, greet within ten,
engage in five. Each garden salad is plated
with two cherry tomatoes on the rim
and each plate is to be set in identical
orientations, tomatoes at four o’clock.
This is a corporate retreat for people
who care deeply about inkjet printing.
This is a funeral for the leader of a religion
some say is a cult. This is a wedding
full of polka fanatics, a post-meet feast
for lanky teen swimmers, a holiday party
for wild-eyed men sneaking moonshine.
This is a seminar where men in safety vests
are shown security footage of coworkers
blasted apart by trains. Nobody eats
their tomatoes and in the back I loft them
to A, who swings a beer bottle and connects,
line drive to the door of the walk-in cooler,
which is broken, and doesn’t cool.
Simply an uncool room with a fancy silver door.
This could be a metaphor for something,
but in this building rain falls through the roof
and waterlogs the ceiling tiles,
streams down from can lights, pools near wires.
Dirty napkins tap dance on broken glass
and black mold crawls down the walls.
So I try not to think about metaphors very much.
When I do see a metaphor, I smile at it within
twenty feet, greet it within ten, and if it
gets within five, I swing at it with a beer bottle.


All My Warm Parts Rebuff Your Sweet, Sticky Sideswipes

I’ve written to you. Please now accept this, my electronic letter
the ask       the trade       the price
As it seems we’re perishing quickly in this land of slow
hearing the dark beer bubble       watching the green plants grow
My letter’s asymptote runs along one hundred hit songs
don’t want you back       want you far away, in fact
The songs run neck and neck. Let’s say my letter wins
though I wrote no beginning       sold the middle       ate its end
& my letter, my letter, my letter. Look, I cannot keep up
you & your big-box cheapskate poem       you & your vanishing smiles
Yes, cannot, with your demands. Some days, you are fully careening
those days       endless dreamscapes of crackers! crackers!
A deep breath, a sure step
I’d been searching for your hinges       I forgot you had a door


The Church of Uncertainty

Here we worship the wobble and wriggle
the shrug and the why

We worship the umber smudge
Laced with specks of everythingness

Wood and crayon
The tilt of a dog’s head

We eschew the poison of knowing
Not the pencil but the ink

Circle around our statue of a question mark
Also available in gift shop as enamel lapel pin

Toss as offering those old seeds you mentioned
The ones you found in a drawer

You are welcome to join us
I’m sure the others won’t mind


Holly Burdorff

Holly Burdorff’s work recently appeared in Cherry Tree, DIAGRAM, Wax Nine, and Peatsmoke. She earned an MFA in creative writing at the University of Alabama and currently lives near Cleveland.

Gabe Brown

Gabe Brown holds a BFA from Cooper Union, was the recipient of a fellowship to attend Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, and received her MFA in painting from the University of California, Davis. Brown was also a recipient of a NYFA Fellowship in painting, and a Sustainable Arts Foundation Award. She has been a Resident Fellow at the Saltonstall Foundation, Anderson Center at Tower View, and Women’s Studio Workshop. Her work has been exhibited nationally and is included in both public and private collections. She lives and paints on a farm in the Hudson Valley.

support evergreen