Growing Tomatoes in Nigeria; Night Nurse; Odysseus Returns    

Growing Tomatoes in Nigeria

The Nigerian diet consist of rice, a hint 
of meat or vegetables, flavored by tomato sauce, 
yet this stable is mainly imported from China.  
Our friend Vicenç’s Catalan food company 
tills land for a tomato farm, employs 
hundreds of women, pays a good salary.  
Most give the money to their husbands.  
At least one uses the cash to buy 
a new motorcycle and a second wife.  
When the company digs a well in the nearby 
village of Wara so nobody has to walk 
miles to bring clean water, the local headman 
claims it as his own, charges everyone a fee.

Beside the farm the company has a factory
to process tomatoes into paste.  The fresh
economic activity arouses greed and envy.
Everywhere Vicenç goes he is guarded
by men carrying assault rifles.  Thousands
of acres are tended and a bountiful crop is
ready to harvest.  Out of the Niger state forest
sweep hundreds of Boko Haram bandits 
on motorbikes to kidnap the European “experts”
and hold them for ransom.  Four policemen
are killed, Vicenç and the other men flee.
The tomatoes are left to rot in the fields.

Should the company return?  The factory 
is still intact, the fields can be planted 
again next year, but is this a governmental 
conspiracy to compel more payments 
for protection?  Since Vicenç and his fellows 
are forewarned of the attack he suspects 
all this might be a vicious cycle to let
the government pocket more kickbacks,
Boko Haram launch more raids, 
while the people of Nigeria never get
the cheaper tomato sauce they need.

Vicenç, a Catalan name, is Vincent in English
Night Nurse

Twelve-hours shifts in the ICU 
watching Covid-19 patients take 
their last dwindling breaths, 
while unmasked people standing vigil 
outside the hospital insist that 
their relatives on ventilators 
only have the flu.  

		Local preachers 
praise God, who is stronger
than any virus since true believers 
who pray to Him will never die.  
She inoculates people who say 
the syringe is empty, she must be 
getting kickbacks from Pfizer 
for peddling their fake vaccine. 

She is a hero in a war many in
her town think isn’t happening, 
a hoax.  At the grocery-store
check-out counter they joke about 
those few who wear masks.  
Don’t take it serious, they say, 
it’s a Democratic plot, once 
Biden’s in office after the rigged 
election it will all go away.

When someone comes off 
the ventilator and survives, 
people give all credit to God, 
not doctors, nurses, or treatments.  
It’s a miracle, not modern medicine, 
that saves them.  They’re convinced 
the hospital claims it’s Covid 
not the flu to get more federal dollars.

When one of her patients dies,
she weeps until her ribs ache.
Odysseus Returns	

1	Argos
Argos is a puppy when Odysseus 
leaves his home to fight 
in the Trojan War, wander
for many years upon 
wine-dark seas, visit 
distant cities, delve into 
the minds of many men, 
taste the favors of 
women and goddesses.

When he returns disguised 
in beggar’s rags, the aged dog,
left on a dung heap to die, 
hears his master’s voice, tries 
to wag his tail.  Seeing this
Odysseus strives in vain
to hide his tears as Argos 
breathes his last.  

2	Penelope

By day Penelope weaves a shroud 
for Laertes she unravels by night
thus keeping her suitors at bay
just as she makes daily promises
to the hundred men to enmesh them
in a subtle web until Odysseus returns.

She says it is a burial shroud
for her father-in-law, but we
know better.  It is for her long
lost husband, who for years
has been weaving and unweaving
his way home.  
			When he appears
as a ragged beggar crouched
by the ashes in the fireplace
the two exchange a warp 
and woof of words creating
a verbal tapestry that affirms,
in a way so sly it at first eludes
her conscious mind, who he is.
Only when he asserts who made
their bed of mighty wood
does she know for certain 
her true love is back.  


William Heath has published two poetry books, The Walking Man and Steel Valley Elegy (a third, Going Places, will be published next spring); two chapbooks, Night Moves in Ohio and Leaving Seville; three novels: The Children Bob Moses Led (winner of the Hackney Award), Devil Dancer, and Blacksnake’s Path; a work of history, William Wells and the Struggle for the Old Northwest (winner of two Spur Awards); and a collection of interviews, Conversations with Robert Stone.