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Season of Olives & other poems

by Lisa Suhair Majaj

It’s the season of olives—the trees are slimly laden this fall,
but still I find fruit to harvest—green olives, blackening ones.
Hair grimed by drifting dust, I run my fingers through
silver-gray leaves, search out ovals dense with oil, green-gold
bursting from their skin. I call my son to help, remembering
how generations return again and again to the task of
gathering, how the trees endure through time and drought
and despair, roots seizing the earth, how branches grafted
onto a trunk bear new fruit year after year. My 90-year-old
in-laws still pick olives, though they no longer climb the ladder
to reach the season’s yield—pungent as memory, bitter
as loss. Amid the flicker of leaf-shadow, echoes of Palestine
and Cyprus cling to the branches, past and present intermingled,
the way light smooths the olive tone of my children’s faces,
that repository of history and love gifting me a future.
This year I won’t press oil; I’ll gather the ovoid fruits
and cure them in brine, offer some to asylum seekers
for their hunger, give some to those I love, save some
for my table—these small green suns that return each year:
dense, bitter, sustaining, lit with resonant light.


From this height, my gaze journeys far
down swerve of stone and earth

tracing Sicily’s clarion coast,
Cofano’s rocky bulwark rising in majesty.

Nothing tempers this landscape’s stern anthem,
neither mist rolling in from the sea,

nor cloud-smoke muting the slope.
Stunned by my smallness,

I turn to the solace of human paths.
Making my way down Erice’s stone-clad streets

I come at last to the church
where cracked ceramic tiles

trace swirls of blue and orange across the floor.
My old agnosticism wrestling with longing,

I slip a coin into the offertory slot,
wait for its confirming clatter,

then lift a taper, touch fire to wick,
watch it sputter and catch—

low flame bowed like a pilgrim
in church shadow. Years before, in Jerusalem,

at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher,
I lit a candle for my mother’s soul,

watched the flame flare up
to the smoky roof above.

Today my prayer flies dove-like,
deep and wordless.

Cleansed by longing, I leave the church,
climb to where cliff’s crevice

flames with cascading light,
wild slope opening to the sky.

My lungs murmur their faithful cadence:
in-breath of love, the long exhaling.

Mamilla Cemetery

Here, where the bones have memory
cloud shadows angle between stones
alight on spaded earth

workers displace tombstones,
cast disinterred bones onto asphalt
building a “museum of tolerance”

a grieving woman stands witness
to the desecration of memory
palms upturned to the sky

scarf blown back by wind of the living earth
prays for her ancestral dead
souls spiraling through space and time

the bones of the long-buried stir
echoes rising from darkening crevices
where the great and humble lie

the patient dead, who died peacefully
or pleading: merchants and shepherds,
wise men and mendicants

baker dreaming of his bread,
priest gripping his cross
sheikh cupping the name of God to his ears

ancient seeds lain dormant for centuries
crack to light
resonant hum caught in the throat of earth

here where the bones have memory
rise these words for the holy dead
broken, unbroken

Mamilla, Jerusalem

Photo courtesy of Cairo Kid
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