An olive hard and dark, hiding
on a gnarled bough, knows about flow.
The bark, with memory long before
Gethsemane, sings unguent tales.
Branches conduct with their lance-
shaped leaves. White flowers bloom
as they listen.
My love does not see the violence
in the breaking of egg, the sifting
of flour, the weight upon the yeast to rise,
the baking. He kneads the dough, feeling
only the moon’s push of sea into sand.
He wipes his brow as heat and the escape
of yeast imbue the room, sighs as if
this is all he has ever known, this peace.
He fills a cup with oil, takes a bottle of red
from the cellar. Lets it breathe. He looks out
upon the grove of trees now barren of fruit
and wonders if the things for which we wait
are the things that have always been:
wine, bread, oil.
The leaves blink like brushed silver
in the flat light of Bi’lin. It is late autumn.
The olives are ready. A chain weaves
in and around the trees. One end snakes
to where Asif waits. It slips from his fingers
as the groan of an engine caterpillars over the ridge.
He attaches an iron collar to the end of the chain,
snaps it around his neck. It locks. He rests
the back of his hand to the bark of a tree
like a man recalling his love. The roots
of twelve years are deep. What kind of a man—
even a Jew—can do this? he asks the tree,
asks no one. He sees it happen, the break of limb
and root as the machine rips it from the soil.
He straightens the scarf around his head,
his kaffiyeh, his pride. He leans into the tree,
rib to rib, and waits.
Reuven looks to the lone tree on the hill.
It is two thousand years old. He still dips his bread
in the oil of its fruit. He remembers: The Lord
calls Israel a leafy olive tree. Jacob appears
over the hill, raising his ax. War! he calls out,
his smile unctuous, drooling. Reuven looks again
to the tree. During war, he says, men may besiege
a city, but may not destroy its trees. So is the word
of Moses. A man may eat of their fruit, but not
wield an ax against them. Jacob’s eyes widen
with the knowing lift of an ax and the wind
of its fall. You forget, he cries, what they have done
to you, to Israel! Reuven sighs. The olive, he says,
is beaten and pressed. It bleeds oil. It rises up
not as ax but as glowing light.
The bread still too warm to slice, we
break it, giddy with reverence for the grain.
We dip it in oil from—from where? he asks,
licking the drops that slip down his hand.
Israel, I read. Mount Carmel. Galilee. Sand.
Hope on faces, picked before it can ripen.
Produced by Jews, Arabs, Druze, and Bedouin,
working together. I saw this, I say. I remember
the hands, seeking an olive within the leaves,
like the weave of fingers through a lover’s hair.