A Pathogen at Work

This year’s olive crop
is failing across Apulia
as older-than-Christ
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


The Path

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.

The Planting

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.

Witnesses

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.