The Sweet Memory of Olive Oil
We went over there just that one time -
my old man taking Mama
back to the village she'd come from in '45
after the war ended.
I was just a little boy, an Americano
in my striped tee-shirt and
Red Ball Jets.
I was tired from a too long plane flight,
thirsty and fretful from a long hot dusty road.
Soon, Bobby, soothed my mother.
Presto, Roberto, presto.
Then we were there.
The farmhouse perched
on the edge of the village
and all these people - zias and zios -
all come to see their Maria home.
I remember best the feast -
what else could you call it?
To my five year old eyes, the table went on forever,
famiglia on both sides.
Nonna sat at the head of the table,
her white braids a crown on her head.
The sun, dappled through the grape leaves, the dry baked earth air,
The whole thing set to a hum of bees.
I can still taste the sharp bite of the salt-cured olives,
the sweet sop of olive oil on the pane.
Stories and laughter passing back and forth across the white tablecloths,
platters passing up and down the long stretch of table.
The drone of the bees back and forth in the air,
the pasta surely made in heaven.
The day rolled over to night and I fell asleep,
carried away by the very stars themselves.
We never went back.
Mama lost touch with her sisters after Nonna died
and I don't know the name of the village,
let alone the way to it.
I wake sometimes and
sit up in bed,
the smell of baking earth caking my nostrils,
the hum of bees loud in my ears.
I call out for Mama, call out for mia nonna.
I call for my famiglia gathered again under that grape arbor
before remembering that was 60 years ago
and I'm old enough to be a nonno myself.
Next to me, my wife stirs.
"Go back to sleep," I tell her, patting her shoulder.
"It was only a dream."