Now that you're 12 I can't keep up

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Selected poems

 

To a grandchild

(Summer 2007)

Fondly I remember Evie,

aged approximately one,

pumping her short, sturdy legs

along the shore at Watson's Bay,

drumming on the metal hulls

of dinghies beached and overturned —

diminutive, a dynamo

intent upon discovery —

feet synchronised instinctively

to that high summer's azure heartbeat,

eyes alight with equipoise

and avid for the journey ...

*

Now that you're twelve

you lope on long, lithe legs,

bronzed by the northern sun;

you leap across the ballet stage

in grands jetés, you dive and swim;

on sports days, fleet as Atalanta,

yours is the athletics track;

now that you're twelve, I can't keep up

with you, my beautiful gazelle ...

for Evie, on her birthday

 

 

Archives of the feet

My feet are like my grandmother's —

slender, delicately formed; the intricately

branching bones of ancestry, her family tree,

well shod in leather lace-up pumps

with elevated heels, enhancing the perception

that has stayed with me: my grandmother

was ladylike and dignified.

 

I did not share her narrow face and frame,

wasp waist and sloping shoulders,

nor was I endowed with her long torso

or her queenly bearing; only slender,

shapely feet, like those destined to bear her far

from her milieu of Sydney's harbour,

northward to the Queensland border:

jungle foothills of Mount Warning,

wilderness beyond Point Danger.

 

In Capricorn, her fan of golden straw

would hover like a gnat;

muslin handkerchiefs and smelling-salts

were ever within reach.

 

I look down, and recall the sculpted

elegance of ankles, feet,

inherited from some remote forebear

whose name is lost to dust;

my father's mother's sea-green eyes

whose lenses could not camouflage

the gnawing ache of lapsed connections,

her Hebraic sorrow.

 

 

The bitter-orange trees of Athens*

The bitter mingles with the sweet

in bitter-orange trees that line

old Athens streets, the breath of all

things vernal in their blossoming;

vermilion lanterns in December

overwintering, to lighten days

diminishing towards the closing year:

each globe complete within itself,

a planetary sphere,

orbiting the axis of the tree,

which seems to live on air.

 

Today I saw a slender tree

so overladen with its fruit,

I wondered how it could withstand

the burden of its own abundance --

rather like a small and wiry mother

with her clustered brood --

more than you imagined one

small body could bring forth and feed.

On the crowded limbs and twigs

there was no space for leaves;

only the rhapsodic orbs

of glowing embryonic suns.

 

*The Greek for Bitter-orange fruit and tree is 'nerantzi'.

 

 

Gifts in winter

After talk of the muses, I slept,

and in my sleep assembled gifts

to entrust a traveller bound for Greece

to deliver to my mother, Demeter:

a posy of dried aromatic sprigs

tipped with tiny sky-blue florets —

rosemary — a scarf I'd knitted

out of terracotta yarn; two homespun

wraps to warm her through the winter,

till we meet in spring.

 

I sense the birth pangs of the first buds

born of bulbs and slender stems,

listen for the hum of early bees,

the cue for my ascent.

 

 

Living the map

I was only five when I first set out to explore

the wilderness of the farm, which, despite

enclosing fences, still seemed measureless.

Every ironbark and bloodwood had its own

identity; termite nests tumesced on trunks,

distinct irregularities; wildflowers and weeds

and grasses gave me specimens to press

and paste into an album labelled Botany.

Slithering down creek banks like a small

marsupial, scrambling through clumps of fern

to reach the overhanging lip, I dipped

into a natural encyclopaedia, a living map

where images preceded names and text.

 

Cattle pads meandered from the pastures

to the creek -- insurance against getting lost,

but not against attack. Each time I went

walkabout in taipan heartland of our farm,

I wondered if I'd meet a killer and be

snuffed out like a match. Even though

I'd grasped this fact, the lure was irresistible.

The bush enticed and beckoned senses

primed and set to high alert, encoding

details of adventures; soles inscribing

the terrain, as I ventured in suspense

on sunburnt, bare explorer's feet,

which never failed — although they some-

times strayed in curlew-haunted glades —

to stumble on a thread of trail,

to guide me safely home.

 

 

Jena WoodhousePoems 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.

Topic tags: Jena Woodhouse, poetry

 

 

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Existing comments

Heartwarming, food for my soul. I pause in this moment and enjoy a clearing in the forest of my life. Thankyou, dear clever one, for sharing such tender writings. And I know your beautiful feet, I remember their slender, delicate beauty from our childhood days. xx
Toodie | 20 February 2018


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