Ritual VII

To a warm night at the end of summer.

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Public Domain

In the still warm harvest nights we come to the olive grove
and pick the little black moons and flick them into our baskets
and now and then bite their rubber shells and suck
the salt from the stones
before passing them to the braver sparrows
who peck around our feet.
Voiceless we groom the vines, leaving the hillsides half-bare
with strange and ugly stubble. If a rain comes
we let its water cling to our trouser cuffs or dresses
and feel it slip under our collars, down the ride of the spine
pool above the hips.
Only if our socks are logged
do we find a tree to shelter under.
My wife will pull a branch from lower limb
and bend it into a laurel: Guardo, sono Cesare!
On a night with a bare moon I see it three times:
twice dancing across the centre of her eyes and
again glowing from the end of her nose. And the children
will have their little crowns, the hard leaves slipping
over their eyes; my nephew on his mother’s back, sleeping
as she drags the barrel along the row
watching for strays. And the barrel will grow heavy if it was a good harvest,
heavier still if it was a bad one: the cart wheels
shaking over the soil, threatening to topple all we have
into the ditches and the goat’s pen. When I was young
I would ride inside, curled up in the sour and woody scent
of the olives, waiting for my mother to forget me
so I could surprise her at the barn.
In eight years, I never did. I grew too old for those games
but each summer-end, still walk with the village
out to our bounty, trudging alongside the donkeys.
The juniper leaves curving towards each other;
the salt air passing over the grass and pricking the cuts on my knuckles.
The soft streams from the rainy mist trickling
over the dirt, bleeding into one another. I watch the breathing earth
as I eat my bread, still surprised when the pink sun
breaches the edge of the world.

David Dykes is an Essex-born poet dislocated to the Medway Delta.

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