Women Picking Olives, 1889
The oil that is extracted here from the most beautiful olives
in the world replaces butter. I had great misgivings
about this substitution. But I have tasted it in sauces
and, truthfully, there is nothing better.
Jean Racine, “Lettres d’Uzès, 1661”
And there’s nothing better than old friends; no substitutes will do.
These women in their plain coloured dresses remind me of what I’ve lost,
the friends who are not here. There’s nothing rational about this,
why a woman on a ladder, another reaching into the trees, a third
with a pannier would speak to me of loss, but there are spaces
between the branches where the dove-coloured sky bleeds through,
and the path through the orchard runs like a river, liquid brush strokes
of clay, the field ochre on both sides. The dead no longer need to feed
the body, decide between oil and butter for their bread. They can slip
between the next world and ours if they want to, on the breath of the wind.
There’s a ladder in this painting, but it doesn’t reach to heaven. Instead,
it’s the divide, the uncrossable bridge, the message still on the answering
machine. Above the orchard, the sky is full of ashes of roses: parentheses,
ellipses, things we hold onto, even as they slip away.
This poem was first published in Barbara Crooker's book, Les Fauves (C&R Press, 2017).
Barbara Crooker is the author of eight books of poetry; Les Fauves (C&R Press, 2017) is the most recent. Her work has appeared in many anthologies, including The Poetry of Presence and Nasty Women: An Unapologetic Anthology of Subversive Verse, and she has received a number of awards, including the WB Yeats Society of New York Award, the Thomas Merton Poetry of the Sacred Award, and three Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Creative Writing Fellowships. Her website is www.barbaracrooker.com
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