This year’s olive crop
is failing across Apulia
groves are uprooted
to break the spread
of the end of the world
for sun-dried farmers
who bear the dark look
of bereaved parents
at their child’s funeral –
as their questions to God
are waved away at mass –
Their pontiff no longer visits
because Rome is burning
with rumours of disease
promulgated by priests
Outside the gates we turned left,
my first time exeunt in that direction,
every other time it was ‘Exit Right’.
My stick ticked dust as the dog chased
her foreign prey of too-quick lizards,
one easily found, but dead, tyre-pressed.
Your perimeter wall merged into the next,
running the width of both properties,
two modern houses in olive-aged spaces.
Then another wall, but low, redoubled
with sticks, broken tiles and half plates,
homespun solutions from the roadside.
Behind it a squat building, a house,
appended by rusty corrugated metal,
poorly repaired, an unpaid maintenance.
Soon the path ended at such baronial gates,
a wrought iron statement of a loud arrival,
that brusque Englishman’s whitewashed castle.
And we turned, to walk back, alongside
the open field, ‘ploughed on the perimeter
to hold back the snakes,’ your explanation.
Lancelot Capability Brown, sunburnt,
drives his yellow digger into your grove
and there, on the almost level ground,
he finds another hole for another root ball,
the third of his flatbed-dropped trees,
which ends up towering alongside
the horizontal swimming pool lines.
The new cipressos are aligned
by those two baseball-capped men,
who guide the next strapped trunk,
with bark rough hands, into the spoil,
planting, for you a marvellous reflection.
I look to them, graveyard-aligned
in our sped view, forever left and right,
on the journey back from Otsuni;
anchored in the red earth, those groves,
set free from the interrupt of stones
by the cast of the rotivator’s throw.
I count, without enough numbers,
the great twisted variations of
olea europaea, those fixed olive trees:
Once shadows over Christ’s agony,
witnesses to his betrayal in three,
there as the shade in Gethsemane,
that which the Dutch artist sought
in his own lunatic star-field view,
in the daub and press of other oils.
I am told that the drupes are cultivated
between their green and purple state,
added to, altered, to make them black.
I know the shape well – bulbous
beads, like the sweated blood,
(Luke), from the pores of Christ.
We arrived at the house, set in a grove,
the venerable trees continue their telling,
blown by the wind, of that old song of God.
A bonfire of all certainties
has been built under me –
of timbers – by unseen hands –
crossed over and lain
on a cold heart – that core
of devoutly-snapped sticks
The ninety year old fell
and they discovered
her riddle of cancers –
She shouldn’t be alive
But her bonfire was doused –
I’m happier – she sung –
I have assurances
This told to me as I was driven
by the old woman’s nephew
through Puglia’s stone veins –
I saw my own pyre lit –
and you – my wife –
have to bear the still low heat
the slowest of fires