Greece's lonely season

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The lonely season

A tarnished pomegranate warms the chill niche of the windowsill,
mottled like a faded kilim, mellow rose, dull gold;

the island in the autumn thrums to lyres of the bourini,
the pagan tongues of log fires in the chimneys;

ancient ferries plying the Aegean in the winter
run the gauntlet of the gales like emissaries of reason.

It is the lonely season, time to skein the yarn of summer
against the hollow tenancy of solitude;

the seas become insatiable, voracious for the sun,
old women seem to shrink into their traceries of bone;

nomadic animals inhale the hills' keen air, their rusted bells
awakening polyphonies in limestone.

Bourini: a seasonal wind of the Aegean

 

Horsemen from the Parthenon*

Hard to imagine more substantial
ghosts, yet spirit-beings they are,
astride their noble marble steeds
that prance and champ the air.

The pale horsemen of Pheidias are neither
here nor there, replicas that grace
the metro station tunnelled underground,
as if half way to Hades they take fright

and rear at something sensed. Travellers
on platforms eye the escort at their flanks,
heroic horsemen like the ones of Thrace,
facing east and west with the arriving

and departing trains, whose passage
stirs the displaced air to pluck at manes
and riders' hair, and fret at reins,
yet leave no change, no trace.

*Acropolis metro station, Athens

 

Meteora
The Monastery of Aghia Triada

The woman climbing step by step
measures the rhythm of ascent,
guiding her son between giant
granite boulders and gaunt monoliths.

Above them, on a dizzy crest,
cloister walls extend the cliff
into the domain of mist
and meditative silences.

Neither could define this quest,
why they feel so comforted
by monks who offer
viscous coffee, winter oranges.

Votive candles, then descent
as evening chimes with village bells,
and tinkling of homing flocks
reminds them they are blessed.

At nightfall, snowflakes glide and spin:
above their dim screen, hovering
on unseen wings, Byzantine voices
soar beyond the eagle's nest.

 

Odeon
Ancient Epidaurus

The odeon drinks in rich scents of fig trees and tart mulberries,
breathless, void of spectacle, save stone withstanding centuries.

Astride a white horse afternoon arrives, parching in dust and flies;
in somnolent hotels, siesta tosses behind sunstruck blinds.

The pale steed dappled by the leaves flicks gadflies, shifts from left
to right, and rolls a restive centaur eye as Pelion plays on his mind.

The Greek and Roman orators have fallen silent and retired,
leaving the semicircle to contemplative wayfarers' eyes,

where sandalled strangers gaze upon the interplay of stone and time,
as evening conquers grove and vine and edges azure day aside.

 

Ikaria

From afar light travels
like a bullet to the heart,
a mirror offered to the sun
catching me off-guard,
piercing the gauze noontide haze
to find its mark.

A child's hand guides the bolt of light
from that fraught, atavistic shore,
where a winged boy plummeted
to earth millennia before,
his torso glistening with molten wax,
his wings a golden swarm,
shards hovering about his form
like fiery butterflies.

On the island of Ikaria, named after Ikaros, who is said to have plummeted into the Ikarian Sea that washes its shores, it has long been the custom for children in remote cottages and hamlets to beam heliographs to passing ships.


Jena Woodhouse

Jena Woodhouse spent a decade in Greece and was recently (2015) granted a writer's residency in France, at CAMAC Centre d'Art, Marnay-sur-Seine. Her poems have appeared in two published collections, and on the current longlist for the Montreal Prize. Her latest book is Dreams of Flight (short fiction — Ginninderra, 2014).

Topic tags: Jena Woodhouse, Greek poems

 

 

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Existing comments

These poems are beautiful. I love their simplicity and clarity.
Donna Schabe | 05 August 2015


At a distressing time, when so many and varied negative views of Greece are being expressed, it is very good to see work that so beautifully evokes the richness of this troubled but still inspirational land.
Gillian | 06 August 2015


The words paint such vivid pictures in my mind, I am there..thank you
Nelia Hennessy | 06 August 2015


I love the way the autumn colours glow briefly in nearly each stanza of 'The Lonely Season', and the imagery of decay is beautiful, no hideous. The horsemen and horses in the next poem are powerful reminders of Greece's heroes and its strength across millennia - 'facing east and west', as if time is of no consequence - this crisis too will pass, Woodhouse seems to be saying? Meteora is such a reminder of ancient rituals, misty faith to cling to, along with the 'homing flocks' of comforting food and drink. 'Snowflakes glide and spin' - wonderful! Odeon: 'siesta tosses behind sunstruck blinds': what evocative imagery! Ikaria is my favourite: the blending of a modern custom which is potentially very dangerous with a mythic story ending in tragedy is brilliant. This poet is one of my favourites.
Tracey | 07 August 2015


Echoes of eons ago; the archaic ever-present in the full array of people and place in today's time. The poet has captured poignant essence, untarnished by harsher realities. The beauty of Greece lives on.
Larisa | 09 August 2015


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