Fig Suite


First sunny morning in a week, Auvillar
garden music: the tourtorelles’ legato,
accenting a two-rooster call and response.
Figs are ripening everywhere I look.
Ficus carica   green orbs now turning rose
and some few swelling to violet. Overnight,
a sweet-savory memory    the fig torte
once offered to a friend    sends me
across time zones, and the years.

First fig memory, mother’s hand-me down:
her mother Domenica wrapping in burlap
the fig trees carried from Italy to the tiny yard
in Delaware. Such romance tempts me
to seek its delicacy.
Years later, after a move
I find a thriving tree in my Baltimore yard,
enough burlap to wrap it that first winter
in her memory; write a poem. Cultivate a taste
for fig butter, fig jam, and buy a sapling
from an old Italian, to gift on Mother’s Day.


I see my aging father sitting on a lawn chair,
in his straw hat looking like Brando in Godfather I,
weeding his tomatoes, cursing pests on the peppers
and squash. Nothing makes him prouder
than the fig harvest bred of nestling that sapling
beside the chimney where the August sun
would linger to hasten the ripening. No need
for burlap in winter with the bricks’ heat.
A few summers, he’ll deliver baskets of ripe
figs to neighbors, the cousins, his cardiologist…
My sister perfects the recipe for fig torte
savory, with cornmeal and rosemary crust.
When I bake it for friends – pure communion.


Now, years since dad died, that tree has yielded
cuttings and progeny in three states. If only
it were thriving as the wild bushes of France,
figs reddening at every bend in the lanes
of Tarn et Garonne. We pick them hiking, biking,
over the garden fence. Three polar vortex winters
back home and our own clumsy efforts
at pruning leave mother counting tens, not
hundreds, of still-green figs this August.

Then today an echo of that tree’s bounty
arrives in Fanny’s message: her memory
of the torte I baked the evening she knew
her brother was slipping away. That aftertaste –
savory with sweet notes    restores the robust tree
to its bounty. This autumn, we’ll prune again,
weed and hope for next year. Meanwhile, today
in Auvillar, one fig eaten mindfully, with
the right fromage, leavens the loss.

Image: “Fig Jam” by Nadja Robot, licensed under CC 2.0.

Kathleen O’Toole:
Since receiving her MA from Johns Hopkins University in 1991, Kathleen has braided an active professional life in community organizing with writing and teaching. Her latest collection of poems, This Far, was released in October 2019 by Paraclete Press, Other books include: Meanwhile, two chapbooks, Practice and Waking Hours, and In the Margins: a conversation in poetry, co-authored with three other women poets. Individual poems have appeared widely in magazines and journals, and have garnered recognition, including most recently the 2020 Connecticut River Review Poetry Prize.

Kathleen O'Toole
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  1. This is very beautiful Kathleen. The loss and remembrance. The bringing forward of such sweetness. Love never dies. Peace, Kathleen


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