Getting off the bus at Woden,
I fell into conversation
with another passenger called Robyn,
who then waited with me
for the bus to Manuka, to see
me off, the way friends will,
or people who are closer: family, kin.
I told her I had visited
the War Memorial.
She said she'd never known
her father, who'd been killed
in action, somewhere. No,
she couldn't tell me where,
she'd been only three. She'd not
been out to view his name,
embossed in metal on the wall.
Her health was poor, she wasn't sure
she'd manage all the walking.
But growing up, she'd missed the father
she had no remembrance of.
She'd always felt the lack of him —
an ache time could not ease
— Jena Woodhouse
Damask Roses, Syria
It's happening again, in Syria —
a century since people of Armenia
perished in their tens of thousands there,
torched alive in caves, or put to death
by thirst and hunger, where their exile
ended in the desert at Deir-ez-Zor.
Now, the forces of annihilation
once again cohere, as if this were
a valve in history's cardiac arrhythmia
that faltered and unleashed
a haemorrhage of horror, trauma,
fear. The damask roses bloom
unharvested in devastated fields.
Their perfume cannot mask the stench
that permeates the air, the atmosphere
of dread, of mute despair. But when
the juggernaut of war is redeployed
elsewhere, the fragrant fields will come
into their own, if there are hands to care
— Jena Woodhouse
Not VCs, VD
They huddle sorry-arsed on the platform sharing Turf cigarettes,
faces above khaki greatcoats, demeanour, of older men,
any ideals of medals not what they imagined,
inventing tales, their ultimate destination vague,
a vanishing point joked about but yearned for.
They watched back yards passing by, recalled games,
kitbags in the rack, windows streaked, their gaze opaque,
no risk now of being blown up, yet their world askew.
Crown land, an exclusion zone, rude architecture,
kangaroos and copperheads patrolling the bluish bush,
army doctors' blunt indifference unmitigated by nurses,
women soon to be only memories of mixed emotions;
porridge and penicillin, a muddle of menial tasks,
a caste quarantined from locals who believe propaganda;
troop movement, training exercises, returning heroes,
who remain ignorant of anything to do with this lot.
Look, there I am long after the war was over, a boy searching
for his lost dog he will never see again, walking
away from the murmur of his family's regret, almost
stepping on a coiled snake under the cover of trees,
calling, whistling for things to be as they were.
He reaches the old army reserve where a breeze stirs,
nudges his cigarette smoke, a flap of cardboard on a shed,
sunlight on a soiled window as if trapped there long before.
— Ian C. Smith
Poems by Jena Woodhouse have twice been shortlisted for the Montreal International Poetry Prize (2013, 2015). She is the author/compiler/translator of seven published books in various genres. In May 2016 she was writer-in-residence at Booranga Writers Centre, Wagga Wagga NSW.
Ian C. Smith lives in the Gippsland Lakes region of Victoria. His work has appeared in Australian Book Review, Australian Poetry Journal, foam:e, Rabbit Journal, The Weekend Australian and Westerly. His seventh book is wonder sadness madness joy.