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The seams of the earth start to bulge


Engelados (Earthquakes)

Where the seams of the earth
start to bulge and strain,
something seeks to escape.

When the intricate fabric
rends from within
civilisation's fragile veneer,
or molten energy is forced
through geology's
complex laminate,
sometimes bile rushes out
in torrents of lava,
fountains of cinders;
sometimes the dark
bird of discord is loosed,
to circle massif and savannah,
inciting acts of mayhem,
orgies of slaughter.

But sometimes the white
bird of hope is released
and the tears it weeps
restore something like order.


Birthday poem

You would wake, as usual, with the birds —
the koel's querulous demands for rain,
the magpies' effortless mellifluence,
butcher birds and cachinnating kookaburras;
pheasant coucal's husky hooting; screeching, trilling
lorikeets, raiding the mango trees for early fruit.

You'd open dusty kitchen louvres,
closed against the night's insects,
breathe the morning air
before the heat could cloud the atmosphere;
the wood stove lit, you'd muse awhile
until the kettle boiled,
perhaps attempt to toast a slab of bread
if there were coals enough,
then take your mug of tea out
to the top step, watch the faint steam rise,
sip it and revive before the household stirred.

A woman and a mango tree,
a mug of tea, a calling bird,
a swag of memories better not unfurled.
Another year: what difference does that make?
No need to calculate;
best to count your blessings, all of them;
to think that you're still here ...


Pandora and Prometheus

It was Prometheus who woke my passion;
I chose him as my muse, but was wed
to Epimetheus instead. Prometheus and I
were kindred spirits to the core,
creatures of will and fire, doomed
to be sacrificed. His born-conformist
brother bored me witless, to be frank.
How could siblings be so antithetical?
It was that boredom led to my undoing,
I suppose, although it's true what people
say, there was always hope, fluttering
her fragile wings, blind as a moth seduced
by flame, but we were punished cruelly for
transgressions and mistakes, Prometheus
chained all those long millennia as vultures'
prey, I maligned till patriarchal myths
disintegrate ...

Prometheus was like the phoenix-bird,
a fiery, wilful saint, goading heaven to appease
obsession, taunting titanic fate, deeming fire
the birthright of the mortals he had dreamed
and shaped: fire-spirits have no fear of deities,
hazard is play. But for the machinations
of the thunder-god, hope might have revealed
a female face, but my gifts were subverted
by an epic spite, my name became a synonym
for heartache. We had a vision of a world made
radiant with light, together we'd work miracles,
exalt the just and truthful life ...

Prometheus and I both shared
the flaw of too much pride,
we both wanted so badly to be wise ...


Nature morte

I watched her leaping in long grass
as if pursuing butterflies,
and thought no more of it, until
this soft form on my kitchen floor:
a young scrub-turkey, almost fledged,
eyes sunken under golden lids,
the corpse still warm,
the breast's dark down
stirred by the draught through open doors
as if its heart still beat; a life
extinguished by fleet, stalking paws
and salivating feline jaws
to something pitiful, inert:
a little bird that fossicked
sunlit morning pastures unawares.


Reversing the order

The ichor light oozing from westering cloud is not sad;
the spidery scarlet poinsettia orbs
have not transmigrated from Titan;
flying foxes' hook-winged silhouettes
homing to carmine-rimmed dawn
are neither aliens nor demons,
but strange nocturnal Antipodeans;
the blood disorder invading my veins
is a form of chess that consumes many pawns —
an endgame of sorts, its duration unknown,
unlikely to end in a draw.


The style of silence

There are no adjectives for this:
a state beyond the epithet,
when at night
it tries to rain,
but there are only
wind's passing breath,
the phantom drops
that stir the grass,
then silences.

I should replace
this meagre light
that fades
before it finds the page,
but there are no more
lines to add,
no words that burn
the tongue, the brain.
The pen has lost
the urge to fly.

There are no messages.


The Epitaphios
Greek Orthodox Easter


Dispersing petals —
cloud-wisps, flocks,
lambs to pasture,
feathered hosts —
the diaspora
preceding folding in,
a gathering
that flows in chanting
candle-lit processional;
an exequy
exiting the courtyard gates,
retracing rubrics of old faith,
mystical renewal.


As they did last Easter and those before,
women's careworn fingers gather
strewn petals from pews and floor;
dismembered roses,
white chrysanthemums
cling to hair and float from shoulders,
little bells that deck the casket
jingling like flocks of goats
in mountain pastures,
as flame passes
from cupped palm to amber wand,
and in lamentation's wake
the column wells from courtyard gates.

A tocsin tolls eternal loss
as mourners trace paths from the Cross,
the fragrant catafalque borne aloft
over feathery sepals, waxen drops.

Jena Woodhouse headshotJena Woodhouse's publications include two poetry collections and a novel, Farming Ghosts (Ginninderra 2009). A short story collection, Dreams of Flight, is about to be published by Ginninderra.

Topic tags: new australian poems, Jena Woodhouse



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Existing comments

OMG.......... so beautiful, moving heart-warming and profound

Judy George | 04 June 2013  

Jena Woodhouse - well written. "The style of silence"...love it.

Pam | 04 June 2013  

'Style of silence' - how true, and how hard to capture! Thanks be for the white bird of hope tho - my favourite i think.

julia | 05 June 2013  

"till patriarchal myths disintegrate ..." when will they? The Style of Silence - well captured, Jena.

Agnieszka Niemira | 06 June 2013  

Lovely. thankyou.

Anne Benjamin | 07 June 2013  

the Style of Silence: perfect placement of words to describe no words, delicate yet powerful and Epitaphios - full of the power of ancient ritual and earthy ceremony - bravo, well written!

Anon | 13 June 2013  

I have just found your poems through the recommendation of a friend and the link to find you. Thank you. Insightful and very calming. They breath a tranquility.

Rosalie Conder | 03 September 2017  

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