The Tomato Soup Poem

Six years old
And up past bedtime
Back from holiday
A crumpled grumpy
Pile of child
Too tired for hunger
Too hungry for sleep
Fractious with car journey dreams
To the rescue
From the back of the cupboard
Came always
A tin of Heinz tomato soup
Wherever we had been
This by tradition
marked our return.
One time my brother
Falls asleep in his bowl
Orange soup swirling
Round copper-coloured hair
He is Home.

Eight years old in 1957
My mother’s idea of heaven
Is Heinz tomato soup
In a mug.

Every day she walks
feet pattering
between terraced houses
Lucky to survive the war
Takes a steaming
cup of heaven
From her foster mother
To the old lady next door
Knowing her hands will be colder
on the return trip
Knowing she
 must not spill
Must not waste
Must not hurry
Must not taste
Such things,
She is told without words
Are not for the likes of her
Sometimes she slips
Sometimes she spills
Once,  she is given a penny.
More than once, she is hit.

Such she learns of love
Love is warm hands
On cold mornings
Love is tangy orange care
Love goes so smooth down your throat
So drink the whole mug love,
there will be more.
Love is not for her.
The stain of orphan is darker than tomato
And harder to scrub out
Children with no one left to love them
must earn their keep
And accept that in place of care.
She is home help
Served in a pint sized vessel
Available off the shelf
She knows the irony in Children’s Home
That foster care won’t always foster caring
 From people lucky
To survive the war
Who love with the habits of rationing

It takes me eighteen years
Til I move out
And she places a can
Among my things
To realise
That homecoming soup was a promise
A brilliant orange vow
Its warmth in my hands said
You are loved
Said you
always will be loved
Said I was a care kid
But you are a cared for kid.
And you will have
What I did not

For her
It was the smell of love unobtainable
Of kindness for someone else
Of care
Conditional on work.
For me she made sure
That home and love and care
taste like synonyms
Taste back of the cupboard
Open doors, like open arms
Always there
For me, tomato soup
tastes like home.


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