By Penelope Garfunkle
6th grade, St. Paul's Episcopal School, CA

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

Once bejeweled with pale green leaves, blanketing branches laden with olive-fruit,
Now bearing grey bark, empty boughs,
Tangled roots, dry and knotted,
Fields of history-book trees,
Their carcasses rot under the hot Italian sun.

The trees have always been present in their corrugated fairy shapes...

Resting below watery stars,
Their eyes are closed,
The same eyes that watched the Romans live,
And die,
A symbol of Puglia is falling…

While conspiracies flourished, the disease advanced...

The people don’t believe that forests are dying,
People that have maintained and 
loved like family, these ancient trees,
The people succumb to the lies, just as
The trees succumb to the murderous bacteria.

We could not wait for somebody else to deal with it…

Fight the foreign accident, the Xylella fastidiosa with
Hope that there might be a way to help, and to aid these dying trees.

Xylella is now crushing that timeless, idyllic reality… 

The silver olive trees are the definition of Italy,
So if they are gone,
If they are gone, what will be left to represent Puglia?
What will be the symbol of Italy?
If the olive trees breathe their last breath,
Then the memories of the people they have witnessed will die with them.
How will we recollect them?

My name is Penelope Garfunkle and I am a 6th Grader living in Oakland, California. I attend St. Paul's Episcopal School. I chose to read "The Farmer Trying to Save Italy’s Ancient Olive Trees" by Agostino Petroni because I’ve been to Italy many times and it has become part of my life. The situation with the olive trees saddened me. I think that the ancient living trees should be cared for because they are such a part of the past. I have walked through olive groves before and it is scary to think that all of the handprints, touches, and voices that these trees have experienced from long ago will be lost just because of a foreign bacteria. These trees have represented the whole Mediterranean area and I wanted to play with the idea of what would happen if the symbol that one place has been known for for a very long time was gone. What would be left of the idea of that place?

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