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Two elegies for a vanished farm




The darkest nights were on the farm.

In the absence of the moon,

stars — a broken barbed-wire fence —

glittered in the sky's soft weft.


Creatures in a tank of air —

night's infinite aquarium —

floated free of gravity

in attitudes of weightlessness.


After spirit-lamps were doused

the house drew in upon itself;

its clutch of dreamers moaned and tossed

in stifling mosquito nets — each isolating

sac of mesh a Magellanic cloud.


On Saturdays the homing beams

of solitary farmers' sons

returning from the picture show

sliced through louvres like a sword.


I'd hear their motors throbbing

in the void as fleeting, fickle hearts

and long for places where the lights

extinguished all the dark.


Now, where nights are drenched

in acid radiance that masks the stars,

incessantly the traffic cohorts hurtle blindly past.


Immured within my wooden ark

beside the curlew-haunted park,

my solitude is palpable, vaster than the farm.


'Yesterday-today-tomorrow' wafts

its perfume through the room.

Violet, mauve and moth-white

effloresce in courtyard's crepuscule.


I cannot differentiate the cloying

fragrance of today — the mauve — from violet

of yesterday, and virginal tomorrow.


Now, as then, the night is all

soft promises that can't be kept.

The darkness rings with memories

of cattle bells, remote and hollow.


*Brunfelsia australis ('yesterday-today-tomorrow'):

a toxic member of the nightshade family




A scientist has likened them to 'flying weeds',

such is the ease with which they colonise

new habitats; crossing from California

as stowaways in gold-rush days; fleeing New

Caledonia through funnels of cyclonic gusts.


None of this we knew, nor even guessed,

when we found their stripy caterpillars

clamped to milkweed plants, and carried

them as trophies to our shoebox cells.


Like silkworms, they would munch incessantly,

voraciously — tubiform, minute balloons

with embryonic horns. We watched them grow,

our pretty prisoners, but how did they escape?

Where did they vanish to, and what

became of them, without fresh leaves?


The answers dangled from mosquito nets,

solidified and glazed — live capsules of milky

jade, adorned with gilded dots where cone

morphed into dome and hook,

attached to canopies of mesh.


We kept watch for the final stage,

the metamorphosis from cloistered

nymphs to creatures of the air;

but once more they outwitted us,

sloughed their chrysalises

in secrecy and flew elsewhere.


As we siblings would, one day, leave

our nurturers bereft, gazing at the empty

farmhouse-box and blank, abandoned nets.


Wanderers: an alternative name for Monarch butterflies



Jena WoodhouseJena Woodhouse is the author/editor/translator of eight book publications in various genres, and has recently completed a collection of poems, Green Dance: Tamborine Mountain Poems, for Calanthe Press, a new poetry publisher based on Tamborine Mountain, in south-east Queensland's rainforest country.

Topic tags: Jena Woodhouse, poetry



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