Olive Press

The players take to the garden, return again
To ancient themes, to nature’s patient agonies
Impressing stone and wood with active energies.
Meanwhile, the city clings low to shimmering swells
Of ground fog rising in scarves from the cooling Kidron
And wrapping fingers around the ancient walls.

The city sees a change while upturned palms burn
For ash. No small wonder, really, for Gehenna
Where there’s little significance to the olive,
Where trees that hang a heavy harvest dim the grove,
The flowering night shade of their candelabra,
The branch-work that threads like a path through the garden.

And crouched in a stone cage is one with a greasy shine
Spilling out everywhere – an almost cat-like
Creature threatening in its silence to devour
With hemp’s crush the segments of an hour like children
In springtime, a creature wound up and tense to strike
The torrid springtime itself in its highest hour.

It was darkness rolling troubled stones in silence.
The harvesters rang out with toil from the field.
The workers at the presses also came with jars
Of clay that brimmed over product thick with a year’s
Devotion – spilling none, counting plentiful yield,
And selling birthright for a silver tuppence.

                   Drying up the river through the temple
                   Crying a name as yet unknown

It was a rampant season for making history;
An empire in mid-life and overripe with fruit –
The labor and betrayal pierced to the bitter root
The heroes plucked as heirlooms from the flames of Troy
And scorched on beaching ships that burnt without succor
Until drenched in Pax Romana’s sweetest liquor.

In fired chalices formed from stolen frontier gold,
Oil unmixed with wine rises to the surface,
Contained by art’s own unmitigated pressures;
The wilding shadows thrown by torchlight in palace
And temple rush headlong with violence, furious
At time’s atrocities committed by young and old.

An ignorant eroticism makes quick gains
Among the royalty who, following the masses,
Begin to sing of arms while Brutus and Cassius
Are ghosts, deleted Latin on a page, the veins
That course the marble tombs of Caesar’s whitewashed stone,
Even as Pompey’s Pharsallus blows dust and bone.

                   With bruised olives drying up, refused in a pile;
                   With only the fires to keep away the flies –

Now’s the time all sorrow ends; mystery beneath
The toga’s folds begins a pagan rehearsal –
Redemption speaks of prefects, governors, prelates
Who suffer through their days with fortune’s reversal
To dance the hours, hours of office, out of breath –
And trumpet credit to death’s triumphs, their debits.

Such hours are for the scrolls of pagan dramatists.
One egregiously comic moment in a garden
Is enough to bereave a wife and her children.
In this, glory’s power cannot enlist the just,
Nor pretend to compensate with porched solitude:
The shades of earthly majesty are pumice-smoothed –

Lacunae scripted on a double-sided scroll;
A buffo’s dumbshow for eternity – perfect
Empire. But roles and lines for governorships have been
Exchanged before the clock, and so they will again –
For this that is now is not as it ever shall
Be: The stone rolls to cure patience or sour product.

Thus better frontiers by time’s margin will maintain
The autumn’s golden bough, as its glitter rattles
The ravaged, tattered foliage in a sacred wood
Where eyes are cross-beamed and dream of a bleeding rood
That drips with critical sweat and crucial oils.
A sponge is daubed to rarify the galling pain.

                       Drying up veins sloughing off to dust
                       Crying a shame as yet unknown.

The laden branches bending low to earth are soiled
This spring by imperfection and excess, all told
In the waft of ripeness and waiting press of fruit;
The gentle fructification tendering both root
And branch; the steel that touches wood; all such will catch
The ripened globules where the stem and tree attach –

And drying up, tapped and sapped, crying night at noon,
All shadows are realized now and released at once –
A snapping twig alone tells the coming of time
To press upon and squeeze out oil like tears, and soon
Embrace the price of love. (With untested endgame,
Cagey death attempts to whisper its own sentence.)

                        Drying in the sun the clay cracks
                        Between words written, only unbreathing

The garden took, embraced and held its own harvest;
With greed, it cradled a cup of spill. The press is full
Of leopard’s agony blazing lightning, unblessed
By its stony heart’s wish for miracles in clay,
And brought to life in the perfect turmoil of soul,
Bringing back to life the holy rest on the last day.

Official hands are washed – courts are covered purple –
The prophetic dreams are drenched in acrid night sweats:
“Forbearance,” whispers the child in plainest glory.
Friends sleep, awake, and sleep again…. Such ignoble
Hours, such holy hours – even for the governor. He,
Informed his sleepless wife is having fits and starts,

Beholds no truth in man: “It is void as silence,
This dream I’ve had, my love. It is numb as violence –
Please, my dear, forebear…. I fear a certain horror
Stations itself above an unbloodied altar…”
Unbreathing, he makes no reply. (The fact of love
Is incomprehensible. That is cruelty enough….)

The groan of wood and stone’s cavitation wakes the wife
Of the governor with trouble’s dawning doubt;
Oil for the millwheel of Caesar’s rounded empire
Extracting seasoned elements of earth, air, and fire,
Onward, these of nature, to the work and thought
That hateful tempests will drown in daylight’s first grief.

                       Drying in the sun the flesh crackling
                       Cries a name

The olive’s small significance begins to grow.
The sun is rising like a greasy silver coin
Smoke-smutted in the pitch of a pine-tarred torch.
Its shady light smears the air. A temple’s porch
Of aimless souls cluster in windless Palestine
Like cooling sweat beading a spent and dormant brow.

                          Lies in flame
                          Only flesh soon knowing.

Yet wretched human measures by no accident
Conspire in equity with their natural element
To breed a further conspiracy among men –
As nature contracts fact and deed, so the season
Will take a timely toll even on divinity
With death in shadows, caged in perfect agony.

                     The mourning-doves are rising, wailing
                     Before the eastern coming of the sun

                     The hour stumbles across the dawn, paling,
                     One among a million practiced for this one.

                     Such intersected mornings are failing
                     The philosophers. Their ancient days are done

                     And mourning-doves are rising, wailing
                     Before the eastern coming of the sun

The spent and purchased currency of light returns
As green and swelling olives cluster to complete
The seasonal curses that calendars repeat
Since Adam’s parental coinage. Day overturns
The cage – a newly conceived empire’s loose at last
But at the cost of thirty parts silver broadcast –

Destruction’s seed is thrown into a conflagration,
Where each germ shivers minute schisms of the one,
The true, the wholly apocalyptic day star;
No golden idol melted down, but a suffering act
Contracted to nothing, dangling free and clear
Until darkness at noon breaks its contract

With existence. In untethered reminiscence
Of Babylon days, the world is unable to speak.
Incessant stone thunders out the insistent creak
Of lumber pressing flesh. In its tumescence
The fruit is crushed, mangled, but unable to free
Itself from the weighty wood of its parent tree.

The torch’s midnight smoke and ashy grit will keep
The winging chorus of flies from softly singing
Too close to tempt his ear. Their chary cataract
Of sound and fury augur thunder’s cardiac
Arrest in rent precinct vistas; with a tearing song
Of fabric, light divides the temple’s pallid drape.

Abstracting death from its sagging weight, the world’s flesh
Is driving steel into wood:
A voice is calling Elijah, a voice quaky
And translating death from the tongue’s Hebrew anguish,
A poem of lightning reciting the psalmist’s groan
In empty space – where grace oozes blood like ozone

And breathes its life into crumbling scrolls.
God becomes a wound,
                                               As from a wounded word
Consonants grow vowels.

                                                     As silence yields a human sound.


  1. Churchill says

    Nice poem, apart from ‘egregious’. And perhaps ‘cardiac arrest’.

    Forebearance has an ‘e’.

  2. Churchill says

    Sorry, no, it doesn’t.

  3. Jonathan Webb says

    Transformational and great. Thanks.

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