To The Vegetable Aisle


Under refrigerated water spray all looks healthy,
romaine, red & green, boston bib, watercress—
        how choose a lettuce?
How to know which of you has natural soil’s nutrients intact?
Hey arrugula! Why haven’t I seen you here before?
Who let those prepackaged sick leaves in the door?
There’s plenty broccoli bunches, no ketchup—
        at least the Reagan/Bush era is over!
Which squash has more vitamin A? Spaghetti or butternut?
        Would one of you please raise your label?
Speak up! Which of you has been microwaved?
Who here likes Creamy Italian?
Who’s not afraid of the juicer’s steel blades?
Brussel sprouts and red cabbage, settle your price wars
Chestnuts, are you a vegetable now?
Ah, tofu, you are the cure for famine & carnivorism.
No wonder U.S. wants yr French soybean subsidies cut!
How juicy these ripe Jersey tomatoes
        lulling me for an illusory moment
                this really could be a garden state.

Wait a minute now! Why isn’t this aisle as well lit
        as the candy bar section?
Why a Mars bar cheaper than a bag of spinach?
Doesn’t it cost more to grow a candy bar?
When a six-year old child I remember watching
        a professional wrestler described
as having a “cauliflower” ear.
Cauliflower, it was 20 years before I cd look at you again.
Actually, for a long time in childhood I refused
        to eat vegetables.
It was a way of rebelling I think.
Later, I substituted alcohol for not eating vegetables.
Now I welcome you radical & mostly sober escarole & chickoree
Now kale, now garlic, now red peppers & parsley.
Peas & green beans, who will protect you from being canned
        and frozen to death?
Without values of internationalism & democratic accountability
        in all public institutions
                who will safeguard the diversity?

Who protect us from irradiation & pesticide?
Who will assure the right to organize?
Who sets transnational standards of minimum wage, ecohealth,
        & safe working conditions?
Who make sure hypertechnology doesn’t take over?
After a right-wing tide, who will remineralize your soil?
Who will assure access to your aisle for all?
Who will apologize for bumping my cart into shoppers
        while writing this poem?
Sleep tight, don’t let the bacteria bite—
feed the struggle for another night.

–Eliot Katz, 1992