The shepherd wife

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Selected poetry

 

Eudoxia

          shepherd wife

 

The shepherd wife has one word

for her cosmos – isychia:

here is isychia, she tells strangers.

 

Without amenities — no water,

electricity — her house clings to a small

crease in the hills, a tortoise shell;

sea forces strips of blue between

the planks of outer walls

that have no windows to admit

the sky, the hills’ harsh beauty.

Fuel is scarce, so scarce

you walk for miles to find

a well-grown tree, or to fetch

springwater with the donkey.

 

The shepherd wife comes smilingly

to meet me, bloodstains on her shoes

from the chicken sacrificed

that morning for the Christmas meal.

Her legs are swollen painfully

from hours tending open fires,

the bread oven; plain sadness

in her eyes for absent children.

 

Lover of the hills

where her heart lives

this woman was and is, although

each spring is brief,

the winters insupportable, and summer

an exactitude of heat

that withers skin and leaf.

 

The old austerities of place

devour her days.

 

isychia: quietude, tranquillity

 

 

Spiridoula

          shepherd’s daughter

 

That little whitewashed cube of cottage

wedged where two hills form a crease,

a few wind-harried bushes

like a draggled corsage pinned to cleavage,

all the blinding azure of the sea

touching the island's feet, and when

the evening lamp is doused, the fields

of stars like desert sheep —

 

Higher on the scarp, the shepherd's daughter

showed us broken shrines, rudimentary

altars, cruciforms incised in stone facades,

skulls of bulls with horns intact, affixed

to spars and boundary markers, placed

as if to warn as well as guard

where two worlds seemed to meet,

Byzantine fusing with Minoan Crete.

 

I know those folk don't live there now.

They've given up their herdsmen's ways

and moved to town, and grown old,

and Spiridoula's hair is grey —

 

 

Stephanos

               the shepherd’s son

 

Caught between two worlds, in thrall

to patterns generations made;

striding the mountainside as dawn

flares up beyond the dark Aegean,

guiding and propelled by tintinnabula of bells

worn by his unruly goats, though not

compliant, docile sheep — Stephanos,

the shepherd’s son, who waits for six

sisters to wed, contributing meanwhile

to dowries, dreams of summer

when they’ll come, the eager women

from abroad, to flock like pigeons

in the port, where lonely shepherd youths

will linger in the evening tourist haunts.

 

There was one so fanciful, she claimed

a pregnancy with him — a fifty-year-old

lassie from the highlands of the distant north.

It gave him food for thought when lightning

ricocheted dementedly from crag to crag

along the mountaintop above his shepherd hut.

 

By nature he inclined to silence, habits of

a solitary. Women trusted him implicitly.

They sensed his innate kindness.

Antics of the lustful Pan were not ways he

would emulate. Used to his unmarried state,

he settled for tradition’s lot, beside the shepherd

and his wife, a comfort in their twilight days.

 

 

North Wind

 

The number of familiar forms

declines: the shepherd on a rock

is not a man, but memory

ossified. Eudoxia fills her flasks

more seldom at the spring. Her legs

resent the thorny, stony journey.

Blue as wild iris blooms the tough—

stemmed rosemary, crowding pebbled

pathways and white terraces

at Marianthi.

 

The north wind thunders in the sea—

caverns and hidden crannies, croons

in clefts and rock-chimneys in tongues

I cannot speak or name, separating

syllables, annihilating phrase

and speech; reintegrating sound

as threnody; translating thyme and thorn

and wild anemone to stone and snail,

gathering the random notes of bells

in chains of melody.

 

I hear it humming in the eaves,

a siren-voice, a spirit merely,

pausing to catch its breath,

then moving on, composing freely.

 

 

Jena WoodhouseJena Woodhouse's latest poetry publication is On the Windswept Bridge (Pocket Poets, 2020). These poems are from her micro-collection News from the Village: Travels in rural Greece, inspired by the ten years she lived and worked in Greece, and will be published by Picaro Poets in January 2020. Author photo credit: Anna Jacobson 

 

Topic tags: Jena Woodhouse, poetry

 

 

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Existing comments

These are exceptional poems that take us to the hearth and heart of rural Greece. I love the way we are refreshed with a great breadth of words: the new, the old, some Greek and many musical - thank you Jena Woodhouse.
Angela Costi | 14 January 2021


More images to nourish my soul and allow me to experience other lives far different from my own - thank you, Jena.
Nelia Hennessy | 16 January 2021


Jena tells the stories in a way that transport one there, seeing those images in mind’s eye and feeling the emotions as each character in their setting emerges and then goes back to their world leaving us to ours. Perhaps to reflect on our own place in the world and how very different we all are for better or worse.
Donna Schabe | 17 January 2021


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