Purple, pitted, imported. Pickled in jars
So narrow my parents angled them out with a fork,
And ladled them onto a dish with little white cubes
Of feta cheese. And never served without
A glass of wine—those resonant days when even
Us kids were given a bitter resinous sip
Of the chilled retsina, and olives were called elyés.
Just saying elyés, it always conjured up eyes—
Not the gray-eyed, salubrious look the goddess gives
To Odysseus when he’s in distress, but the darker
Gleam of the olives themselves, pressed together
Inside the narrow, brine-soaked glass of the jar.
Unscrewing the lid, you caught a whiff just strong
Enough to make you wince, and even if
It was only the stagnant red vinegar, it seemed
To carry a salty trace of tribal blood—
At least that’s the way it looks and smells to me now.
Elyés. The vowels had eyes but never said
A word. The jars of olives came in crates
It was my job to unpack. Each time I slid
Those slender vessels into their slot on the shelf
In my parents’ grocery store, I felt a faint click
At my fingertips when their glass containers touched.
My father’s village, so close to Kalamata
I could almost pick up the patter of Kalamata
Olives falling on matting spread under the branches
Of shadowy groves—as if the tree on the label
Was shaken by outstretched poles, or angled forks.