By Mary Roche
11th grade, Eastchester High School, NY

With lines from "The Farmer Trying to Save Italy’s Ancient Olive Trees" by Agostino Petroni, a Pulitzer Center reporting project

Step into the ghost forest.
The unearthly woodland is not haunted,
Just dead.

How do you kill the unkillable?
The ancient?
With the smallest of things:
                 Xylella fastidiosa.
Why do the deadliest things so often
Have such beautiful names?

The oldest and grandest olive trees
Are lost,
Infected and doomed.
Immortal grandparents are immortal no more.

Felled by the tiny bites of tiny insects
And their tinier pathogens.
They seemed too old to sicken, 
Their history too immovable. 
But Goliath fell.

On their corpses you can see
Corrugated fairy shapes,
Like something out of a fantasy.
But their fairies have passed on.
Rooted out by disease,
They have lost their homes.

A sickness has come,
Crushing that timeless, idyllic reality.
Centuries old roots with no chance of survival,
Filling the landscape with an unnatural greyness.

Walk along a well worn path through the ghost forest.
Ghastly, peaceful trees that saw ancient Romans passing by
See you walking over their tangled roots.
They once wore green.
They once flourished.
Now they are shells of themselves,
Gravestones for mourners passing by.

Green branches have been desperately stitched in.
Administered by ill prepared doctors.
Many of these graphs are dying too,
And not every tree has one,
And it may be too late for that tree anyway.

Meet the trees’ keeper, that ill fated doctor, in the ghost forest.
They have watched the trees die, 
Die in a matter of years.

These trees were friends,
Were family.
For some, they are livelihoods.
Now they are decay,
Endless fields of grey, dead olive trees.

They have tried to save what they can, 
but knowing what graphs worked took time
And doing the graph that work takes money
And a rich history doesn't translate well to cash.

And so they have watched many trees die. 
That keeper stands to lose more than their trees.
They may lose forever
Their harvests
Their farms
Their culture
Their immortal grandparents 
The olive trees.

Mary Roche is a rising senior at Eastchester High School. She has long been interested in stories in all forms: books, movies, and pictures. She loves writing and photography, but only recently did she enter the world of poetry through her participation in the National English Honor Society. Mary appreciates poetry's lyrical imagery and enchanting descriptions, which can pull readers in and give them new insights to the world and all its people. She believes strongly in the power of storytelling and is honored that the Pulitzer Center recognized her work.

Read more winning entries from the 2021 Fighting Words Poetry Contest.