In honor of the upcoming “Planting Justice in Palestine/Israel” Tu B’Shvat seder led by Tikkun Olam Chavurah. The poem references Johal, who is a trickster figure in Palestinian folk tales.
My Father and the Fig Tree
Naomi Shihab Nye
For other fruits, my father was indifferent.
He’d point at the cherry trees and say,
“See those? I wish they were figs.”
In the evening he sat by my beds
weaving folktales like vivid little scarves.
They always involved a figtree.
Even when it didn’t fit, he’d stick it in.
Once Joha1 was walking down the road and he saw a fig tree.
Or, he tied his camel to a fig tree and went to sleep.
Or, later when they caught and arrested him, his pockets were full of figs.
At age six I ate a dried fig and shrugged.
“That’s not what I’m talking about! he said,
“I’m talking about a fig straight from the earth — gift of Allah! — on a branch so heavy it touches the ground.
I’m talking about picking the largest, fattest,
in the world and putting it in my mouth.”
(Here he’d stop and close his eyes.)
Years passed, we lived in many houses,
none had figtrees.
We had lima beans, zucchini, parsley, beets.
“Plant one!” my mother said.
but my father never did.
He tended garden half-heartedly, forgot to water,
let the okra get too big.
“What a dreamer he is. Look how many things he starts and doesn’t finish.”
The last time he moved, I got a phone call,
My father, in Arabic, chanting a song
I’d never heard. “What’s that?”
He took me out back to the new yard.
There, in the middle of Dallas, Texas,
a tree with the largest, fattest,
sweetest fig in the world.
“It’s a fig tree song!” he said,
plucking his fruits like ripe tokens,
of a world that was always his own.
from 19 VARIETIES OF GAZELLE