Angela Costi
Olive Trace

Mama wanted to reach down into her bloody brine bowl
lift up and through her the animal wet hunger—are you all mouth?
It was summer, Australia, backyard, a hills hoist dipped in ragged grass,
blue overalls and white aprons dripping in silence,
two fences away, a radio announcer clothed in static called the final race.
Her head was a childhood of stories and myths, of culture uncured and bitter,
of silver-lined leaves in a village too small for growing appetites,
her hand swept around and around her large globe,
next to her, a ceramic platter, looted of olive flesh, pip graves en masse,
pink trails of taramasalata, the lingering smell of fried cheese.

When my small mouth was a cavity of fantasy fire, ice-cream and jelly
and the hospital bed was too hard, too narrow, too clean,
Mama feared I would die of bad food and fed me from
towel-covered clay pots, okra, potato, broad beans in a tomato onion stew
while her mouth poured luxury: stories of her billygoat chasing a tree snake,
of embroidery like butterfly wings for little fingers to crochet,
of big black clouds of moon shaped olives picked one by one for many days
and how my eyes were as big as those olives—oh I could eat you up!

The nutty crisp flesh of Queen Green, the soft lush pulp of Kalamata,
the sea-washed dry meat of ancient Thasos float in garlic-salt pools,
in coriander seed beds, in a pantry corner, survivors of the beer-bottle
whack, the accurate slash, the strangle of Mama's vinegar drenched hands.
Bottled in the dark like her memories, garnering taste like nostalgia,
changing texture, hue, aroma as often as temperament.
She watches fretfully for signs of ferment, purple-stained bruises, oil slick
mould banks, bubbles simmering with servitude, the whiff of stray odour.
On those special days and if we please her, the table is dressed in delicate cloth,
the silver cutlery is brought out and each one of us is given a saucer of olives.