Issue #54


La Oliva

La Oliva

Jeff McMahon

My olive tree is dying again.

It sits in the corner of my bedroom, taking up space. Filling an absence.

I shift its position closer to the window. A minimum of six hours of sunlight a day are required for growth.

When the skies are dark, I grow nervous.

The sirens are still ringing, but I think the ambulance has left with the body by now.

He pressed my palms into his, sinking them into the fertile Granada tierra. The suelo.

Down the river from where we were planting, slashed into the land like a knifewound, was Barranco de Viznar. A different sort of garden. 

Paper roses as headstones. Oblivion by sepulcher. A couple plaques on the ground. 

A mass grave is composed of countless individuals, but it is a singular noun. It is one story. It has one body. It is defined by what it does not have. It has no face to recognize.

As though they had never lived. Never had sisters, or mothers, or children, or their own plots of tierra/suelo on which to spread their roots and ripen.

Never had somebody to tell their fathers how brave they were when the soldiers shouted like thunderclaps. In the dragonbreath of the rifles.

The sky is dark again. My leaves are wilting. There’s never enough sunlight.

I think my tree has seen too much. A man was stabbed outside my window the other night. I’m not safe in my own home. I can feel my roots ripping up from the dirt. No, I don’t need to talk about it.

But I do see it over and over again in my head. I can’t stop thinking about the hole the knife left, and the blood pooling on the pavement. It seemed like they felt regret. Like, now that the blood had left the chest, it wanted to flow back in.

They told me that Franco left the last one alive, to bury his comrades, and dig his own grave, before executing him too.

Are you ok?

They told me that there were so many bones piled together that they couldn’t possibly rebuild real humans. That they built fake ones from mismatched limbs to give closure to the families. 

Where does it hurt?

They told me that seedlings sprouted from the tierra, the suelo, like defiant green fists raised to heaven around the cache of bodies.

Point on the doll where he slashed you.

Around the stockpile of bones. With skulls as bullet chambers.

I need my tree to recover. To live. So I do my research.

I read that olive trees can thrive anywhere. Their native tierra/suelo is wherever their roots are spread. They can be introduced to adverse new tierra/suelo and still grow. You must only be sure to keep them healthy. You have to work at it. You have to make an effort.

I read that olive trees are astounding healers. They don’t cover up their scars; they incorporate them into the bark. 

I read that olive trees can regenerate themselves, living for hundreds of years. Outgrowing the origins of their abuses. Their damage: a tapestry. Cosmic impacts cratering their body like a map of the divine.

Some in Europe are incredibly ancient.

“Older than Spain,” he said, sitting with me in the middle of the grove on Spanish cliffside.

 “Older than bullets.” 

“Do you understand me, Mozo? How can you tend to the olive groves without considering what they’ve seen? 

Minimum Six Hours of sunlight cast off the shoulder of the Alhambra and spill a halo over Viznar.

Voices never heard are carried by the river.

Whispered by the firmament.

Imbibed by the roots of the olive tree.

Salve for the tierra. The suelo.

I am carving divots into my tree pot - for irrigation purposes. I hope this will help revive my yellowing leaves. And then maybe my tree will grow again.

“You cannot bring back the lost. All you can do is grow the olive trees, and tell the story of my people.”

He said this to me, as though I was the subject. But his eyes flowed down with the river, pouring out like blood from his, mine, our, an, the open wound of tierra/suelo. 

El Barranco de Viznar.

Under the Light