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Suitcase crammed with affluence


Young woman with suitcase

Border Crossing
As I cram my suitcase with 'essentials' before flying north,
a scene witnessed in northern Epirus is brought to mind --
terrain where gorges and ravines disdain the borders
drawn by states -- a corridor for traffic between neighbours,
used by men on foot, shod only in cheap
plastic slippers meant for bath or beach.
Carrying a grocery bag as luggage, food to last a day,
they passed us going separate ways, their destination Athens.
When we walked the Vikos Gorge -- a party from an embassy –
we crossed paths with a cohort of young men, as many as fifteen,
trudging south to something more alluring than they'd left behind,
pushing on beyond vertiginous abyss and watercourse,
where patrols were baffled by the labyrinth of crest and crease.
The fugitives were like a slur to affluence:
our Italian trekking boots embarrassed
by their plastic scuffs; our rucksacks stuffed
with more food than they'd eaten in a month;
the feather beds and comfortable hotel awaiting us.
What they thought could not be read in faces pinched with need.
They plodded on, a ragged band of hungry, thirsty refugees,
hoping for a crust of bread, a shallow cave to lay their heads
when evening fell, and wolves were on their scent.
Perhaps tomorrow, there’d be grapes and oranges awaiting
them; farmers who would pay in kind for harvesting.
The Integrity of Ruins
                    The Parthenon
A lifetime's food for thought is hived
in contemplating certain ruins.
Can it be that DNA of cultural memory restores
the missing architrave, the ornament,
the attributes of grace?
Or is there solace in the fact
that some part of the whole is spared,
despite history's vicissitudes -
the loss of faith, neglect, decay -
an anamnesis that alludes
to principles of perfect form,
born of genius and time -
synopsis, apogee of all
a people dreamed of and aspired to
in their lease on fate.
As a fountain effervesces,
fresh and self-perpetuating
arcs and arabesques inscribing
water's airborne trajectory,
so the ruins of a temple,
transposed to imagination,
glimmer with audacious phantom
trajectories of stone in space,
shaped by visionary leaps, 
geometries of faith.

If you should reach this city
with your votive offerings intact,
you will receive mementos
in return from the metropolis:
the voices of Athena's little
owls on the Acropolis;
wild olive trees, their obol-fruit;
the onyx tongues of cypresses;
a cohort of stray curs that sleeps
all day outside the temple gates;
a permit to ascend the sacred
eminence, the violet heights
beloved of master architects
and artisans of Attic light.
You will be serenaded by cicadas
till October wanes; you'll inhale jasmine
essence along Queen Sophia's Avenue,
explore streets named for Aphrodite,
Bacchus, Eros, Byron, Shelley;
be assigned a theatre seat of honour
for the festival, with ghost applause
resounding for Euripides' new tragedy,
raucous laughter greeting Aristophanes.
You'll borrow from a lexicon
whose masters worked in poetry
as others crafted gems and precious
metals in antiquity; shaped marble,
delicately veined as Artemis - Penteli's
core: these pleasures that augment
the store of sojourners
will all be yours.
Hypnagogues will seek you as you sleep,
to take your hand in theirs
and lead you through the city upon city
far beneath your feet. You won't remember
this, for they will mask your dreams
with commonplace, yet as you walk
those streets, you'll wish to dream
their dream, and never wake.
Should you arrive bereft of gifts,
you'll still be welcomed as a guest
and charmed until you come to dread
the word 'farewell', the leavetaking...

August 15 – Tis Panaghias
In rich cathedrals and poor village chapels
linked by the Aegean amphitheatre -
pebbles known to God, a string of prayer-beads
in the palm of time
illumined by a sense of the divine -
under skies cerulean and cloudless,
within countless shrines
glow icons of the Virgin and Her Child.
On Tinos, pilgrims move on hands and knees
to the Basilica, where miracles are worked
through their belief in Her eternal grace.
Only through a love so unconditional,
maternal, chaste, can ailments and indignities
on Earth be made to dissipate.
In harbour squares throughout the archipelagos,
in cloisters and in monasteries the length
and breadth of Greece, old women are shedding tears
to ease the burden of their years,
young women are reciting prayers
before the image of their faith...

Jena Woodhouse

Jena Woodhouse has had two novels published by Ginninderra Press - Farming Ghosts and Dreams of Flight.

Young woman with suitcase image by Shutterstock.

Topic tags: Jena Woodhouse, modern Australian poetry, asylum seekers, refugees



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Existing comments

Beautiful, Jenna. Thank you.

Joan Seymour | 25 November 2014  

So beautifully evocative of multi-faceted Greece. Thank you, Jena.

Gillian | 25 November 2014  

Jena, Your writing Always; liberates imagination, and exhalts the senses ~ Is very evocative .... g r a t i t u d e

Ali | 25 November 2014  

Feelings of anticipation, when I'm about to read your work, are always followed by a sense of hunger, satisfied. Thank you, Jena

Nelia Hennessy | 28 November 2014  

You borrow from a lexicon and master poetry, city by city, image by image, face by face, Greece by Greece,

Mark | 28 November 2014  

Beautiful Greece has inspired so much richness in your poetry, full of intricacy and vitality, Bravo! Reading is a sojourn itself...

Larisa | 01 December 2014  

Like Gillian in her comments, your poems, Jena, show the many faces of Greece. There is certainly no stereotyping in any of them. And how sensitively and lyrically they are expressed! I am a great admirer of your poems and your fiction. Thank you!

Helen Nickas | 01 December 2014  

As an Aussie philhellene I have breathed the same Greek air as Jena, wandered on the many paths of Greece and I am moved by how Jena has clutched Greece to her.

Michael Winters | 18 December 2014  

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