As I spread –lustrous, smooth –
The oil on the pan I recall
Strolling through pathless groves
Surrounded by silver leaves,
Beatitude of ancient growth.
“Arthritic,” “colorless,” “warped,”
“Dull,” “stunted” – casting words
Like these at olive trees ignores
A long shaping of wind and sun,
Decades of gripping hard earth,
That make any olive grove
An integument of the planet.
Now bulldozers cross boundaries
To flatten olive trees. What of
The olive branch of peace, hope
Offered over no-man’s-land?
Or of the leaf in the dove’s
Mouth? Is the past only
The past, green and unseen?
My breakfast eggs are browning
Now, not those of the farmer in
Gaza where blind Samsons level.
From Spaces and Lines
I was almost physically shocked several years ago when I read that Israeli troops with bulldozers had wantonly destroyed many acres of olive groves in Gaza. (This was before the wall and the siege.) I had spent enough time in Italy and Greece to know olive groves intimately, to know how many years it took in growing for one to bear, and to know how vitally important olive groves were for a rural economy. I also had come to believe that on olive tree was in itself beautiful.
I cook my breakfast eggs in olive oil, and so it was only the next morning that this poem began to shape itself. It seemed necessary to have a passage on how some (Americans?) think of the trees as ugly and to counter that. Then, of course, the Bible leapt forward and the symbol of peace.
It was always going to be a short poem, and my eggs were just about done, but here I identified with the Gazan farmer, whose breakfast may not have existed, so I returned to the Bible, remembering the super-muscular Samson “eyeless in Gaza” (Milton’s phrase), the Israeli who could destroy.