Olives on the grounds of Saint Paul Hospital in St. Rémy, where Van Gogh painted a serene set of canvases in 1889.

Raising olives

We breathe the air we’re given, green and wet in spring, or bitter with smoke;
We drink from the stream to the pulse of the blue-veined breast;
We eat the things we find in woods and fields and boxes.
We hunt, we hide, preen and cower.
We mate, enchanted by the clear eyes of the young;
We dream wolf dreams of entrapment and escape.

Blood beats in us two billion times, a syncopated metronome, river water
Gouging stone, raging now, now turbid, still.
We search for our true selves, the selves we were, our spirit, our salvation.
We imagine better worlds, better mousetraps, clever ruses.
Toward the end we stumble, awake amazed in others’ care, grateful but ashamed.
We review the interval between quick and quiet (a symphony, a banquet);
Peer down the rutted road to the spot where our heart throbs one last time
And we forget our losses, forgetting too
The tumbling sea, the slaking rain on fossil stone, today’s mail in the box.
We join those who went before, as our clear-eyed children
Replace us in the watch towers.

In the meantime we tend our trees.
My own olive this year is profuse with fruit and leaves as glossy as olive leaves can be.
It sways in the sun-struck air I breathe like the dark brown hair of the boy I lost years ago
When the olive was a pliant, fruitless stalk.

And here's another >