It is among the oldest cultivated trees in the world, being grown before written language was invented. – History of the Olive.
Who was the first to try
an olive ripe from the tree,
the paltry flesh over stony seed
so bitter it must be poison?
Who learned the magic
to make it succulent?
Sun cured or covered in salt,
soaked in brine or lye,
the months waited
with an ancient’s trust in miracles,
Washed, then crushed, the pits removed,
pulp placed in woven bags and baskets
and pressed for gold/green oil
hiding in plain sight,
the last drops coaxed from the dregs
with boiling water.
Full vats, amphorae lining walls,
riding in the holds of ships with many oars,
feeding flames of lamps and altars,
ointments rubbed by healers’ hands,
anointing poets, warriors, kings,
and the Chosen with their haloes.
Sun and rock, the old ones say,
drought and silence and solitude–
this is what the olive needs to thrive,
to provide for those who tend her
in these promised lands.
Her trunk delights in twisting,
her branches keep low and tangled –
in spite she lives for centuries.
Devoted generations stay home
and lie in her shade,
feel their blood
pushing up from her roots,
vessels for her spirit
when they dance without care
after the harvest.
The kitchen crazy at his back,
clatter, shouts, profanity,
bangs and trash talk
interspersed with fire.
Filthy plates and silverware,
dirty water glasses and the sommelier’s picks,
all flow back with the current
and gather where he mans his post,
the big machine humming,
so hot and steamy he never gets dry.
Servers in black and white
enter and exit, plead with the line,
their clocks running out,
the expediter sliding
back and forth like a ninja,
prime time a battle in candle light,
bussers rolling in with loaded carts
jammed into his corner.
He knows the marathon runner’s steady pace
in a white sleeveless t-shirt,
tattoo snake coiled around a knife,
red bandana to keep his head on.
The staff sits out at the bar
after the doors close,
but he’s still finishing pots and pans
when the chef brings him
a fat glass
of Tennessee whisky
and shakes his hand
that at least warms his walk home
to the little apartment
with its single dresser,
the top drawer, his dress blues
neatly folded and the Purple Heart.
There were no oranges to buy
when I was an Indiana,
nineteen fifties child,
not like today
piled at the supermarket
with the apples and potatoes.
There was only the orange in the stocking
I received at church on Christmas Eve,
an orange the color of a rising sun,
warm and smooth in my hands,
its smell when peeled
an explosion of light
that magic little world
I separated into pieces and shared
like Jesus taught,
its juice in my mouth
so tart, yet wildly sweet,
but the seeds, if you bit them,
bitter as the wages of sin.