Refugees returning home


Selected poems


And they have called it peace ...
Rome creates a desert
and calls it peace ... *

Alas for mangled vineyards,
charred olives, trampled wheat;
alas for children bleeding
in rubble of the street;
the sands will be the victor
in fiefdoms of the East,
as gardens sink in ashes
beneath death's barren lease,
and they decree new deserts
where wells flowed deep and sweet,
carving out a wasteland
where widows grieve and weep,
as they impose new orders
where clans once herded sheep,
harvesting the chaos
that bitter spore must yield
to those who reap the whirlwind
and deem such deserts 'peace'.

*Tacitus, after the rout of an
insurrection, led by the Celtic queen
Boudicaa, against Rome's occupation
of Britain.



Picture dictionaries

The pages they want copied
are the ones about the body,
prompted by a need for reinvention
in the second tongue.

Naming the corporeal self
in English, one is born again,
having survived the shredding
of identity as best one can.

Then they fan out, ranging
across different hunting grounds.
A woman from Liberia locates
words for her homeland's mammals,
a petite Vietnamese adores a page of birds;
others delve in grocery lists,
furnished rooms in ideal homes.

The olfactory senses resist
makeovers in some.
A young Afghani woman samples
images of melons. 'In my country,
cantaloupes were like the watermelons here —
very big and sweet. The way they taste
is different in my country ...'

Overcome with homesickness,
she leaves before the lesson ends,
drowning in the esters of lost summers.



Harvest of the sea

Three children drift ashore on Mytilene
like dolphins paralysed by dynamite,
but these are human forms — daughters
of a troubled land surrendered to the sea.

Where East meets West, the shores of the Aegean
can mean sanctuary, glimmering through this ordeal —
the dark voyage, a winter gale — but amulets that kept
them safe on trails through hostile wilderness
are powerless against the frenzied waves.

Old women recall other times when corpses
surfaced in the nets, or washed ashore from Aivali
and Smyrna; they watch the wheel revolve again:
three little sisters found too late, where strangers
close the coffins, dig the graves.



Refugees returning home

Across the black hole of my solitude,
the self-indulgent pit where I
lick self-inflicted wounds,
lightly step returning refugees.

They know why they trek through forest,
crossing rivers, day by day, on bruised
and lacerated feet, in rain, on clay,
on sharp-edged stones.
For them there is no other way,
and they are going home ...

They have no doubt where they belong,
the dying and the newly-born,
no time to squander on regrets:
they are going home ...

The Sudan — 04.06.05–25.08.16



Every shadow

Every shadow in the night
is waiting for the moon to rise:
foxes, owls and feline predators
with glowing topaz eyes.

Night-blooming plants
raise vials of fragrance,
waiting for the moon to rise,
offer up their essences
as exhalations of desire.
River-rafted apparitions
tremble with anticipation:

Every shadow dreams
of being light


Jena WoodhouseIn 2015, Jena Woodhouse received creative residencies to Camac Centre d'Art, Marnay-sur-Seine, France, and the Australian Archaeological Institute at Athens, Greece. In May 2016 she was writer-in-residence at Booranga Writers Centre, Wagga Wagga. Two of her poems were recently shortlisted for the 2016 University of Canberra Health Poetry Prize.

Topic tags: Jena Woodhouse, poetry, refugees, Sudan



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Existing comments

Katie and I read your poems today Spur. We found your messages very poignant and, sadly, so very current. Lots of love, Toodie xx
Toodie | 26 September 2016

I weep as I read - if only our leaders' hearts could be opened by these poignant images...
Nelia Hennessy | 27 September 2016

Very moving and powerful work; essential reading, really.
Gillian Bouras | 27 September 2016

Moving and beautifully written. Poetry can be so powerful. May it melt the cruel hearts of our government.
Suzanne Dixon | 27 September 2016

I read these beautiful words about people I will never know but feel so much of their challenges and lives. Jena brings this sad topic to top of mind in a gentle way that makes my heart ache for them.
Donna Schabe | 29 September 2016


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