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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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