Jena Woodhouse is a Queensland-based poet and fiction writer/ translator/ compiler/ of eleven book and chapbook publications across several genres, including six poetry titles. She spent more than a decade living and working in Greece, lured by her amateur interest in, and subsequent passion for, archaeology and mythology, reflected in many of her poems. Her most recent publications are News from the Village: Travels in Rural Greece (Picaro Poets, 2021), and a re-publication of her story collection, Dreams of Flight (Ginninderra, 2020). In recent years, she has been awarded creative residencies in Scotland (a Hawthornden Fellowship); France (CAMAC Centre d’Art); Ireland (the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, Annaghmakerrig) and Greece (The Australian Archaeological Institute at Athens). Her work, which has received awards for poetry, adult fiction and children’s fiction, appears in many literary journals and has thrice been shortlisted for the Montreal International Poetry Prize (2020; 2015; 2013).
Evening Stroll by the Canal
Late today I turned east by the arched bridge at the village edge
to follow the canal’s trajectory, between tall trees and low levee –
a strange wind blowing fitfully, rattling the sabres of a ghost cohort.
A swan is nesting on the bank, a queen upon her makeshift throne –
her consort tacking back and forth, anxious and alone.
A chill breath lifts the trailing ivy tendrils from the trunks of trees,
sings an eerie serenade in balls of mistletoe, ruffles the canal’s
meniscus, sets it lapping like a cat.
I glance over my shoulder: it’s deserted here, I should turn back,
but can’t resist the stubborn invitation of the thread of track.
The channel is an enigmatic green, unwinding like a charm.
The more I walk, the more it lures me on.
The chateau and the village that I reach have strayed out of a tale.
I’ll blink, and there’ll be nothing there at all. I blink, but they are real:
“The Three Emperors”, where three armies in turn set up
their headquarters, is solid as a rock. I am the revenant,
or so it seems, roaming stony streets like one possessed.
Walking back, I see the swan has tucked her head beneath her wing;
the male swan paddles fretfully, to guard her as she rests.
The northern European light drains swiftly to the west –
its running fire on the canal is doused.
The woods are listening, as if alert for signs of hobgoblins,
and there is something edgy in the wind –
Shortlisted in the biennial Montreal International Poetry Prize, 2015, and subsequently published in the Global Anthology of winning and shortlisted entries, Vehicule Press, Canada.
Why I am loath to discard glass
A friend sends me a message to thank me for the jars
I left for her to fill with jam or lemon curd or marmalade.
Why is it I cannot discard containers made of glass –
the kind you buy with honey or tahini, pasta sauce or cherries –
dark Morello cherries with cheeks pressed against the sides?
Behind this hard, smooth, light-reflecting clarity lies alchemy.
Imagine the first fusion more than three millennia ago, in Syria
or Egypt – the awe that something so refined could issue from
the elements of silica and soda ash, and fire: engendering
desire to replicate this feat, explore the forms implicit in
the malleable mass; reveal the secrets in the oxides codified
by heat, imbuing glutinous material with lucent elegance
in delicate small flasks for unguents, in perfume vials;
tinting the annealing magma ruby, topaz, emerald –
the undreamt-of counterfeit of gems in vitreous array
that lured the affluent to buy; to covet or bestow, display.
These plain jars, mass produced, hark back to those arcane
experiments, heirs to a noble lineage nouveau plastic cannot
emulate; their genealogy replete with farmhouse pantries
marshalling the ranks of storage jars for scented, mouth-
tempting comestibles: conserving blushing saffron peaches,
ruddy plums, pale pears, ripe berries; figs and hazelnuts
and raisins; spices in small, precious phials. Apothecary jars
in grocery stores, stuffed full with striped bull’s eyes.
Once, in a Greek museum I saw slender birds of Roman glass,
translucent cerulean as Delphic skies in early spring, so very finely
formed that if the plate-glass case were opened, they would fly
as high as larks, though those blue avians would never sing.
Pressed beneath earth and masonry for centuries, recently
they surfaced from their trajectory through time intact –
vessels empty but for breath of someone’s lungs immured in them,
embodying the principle of flight, the hue of boundlessness.
Longlisted in the University of Canberra (Australia) Vice-Chancellor’s International Prize for Poetry, 2013, and subsequently published in Dazzled, an anthology of finalists and winning entries
Sky Bridges above the Seine at Marnay
In March you hear them passing
overhead, and you look up to see
a bridge of wings that transits
the empyrean; cohering and dissolving
as the echelons fly north with spring,
returning from the warm south
of their wintering, to nesting sites.
Span on span, they arc above the Seine
in transitory skeins, their voices
hail each other as they recognise
their home terrain, feeling the familiar
thermals ease them through remembered
skies, where no hunters intercept
the bridges they construct in flight;
calling their anticipation, urgency, delight.
Following the Seine as guide
they travel onward into night,
hopeful that with dawn they will
reach journey’s end, descend, alight.
Watching from the arched iron bridge
that bears the needless sign, La Seine –
water chatoyant chartreuse
beneath wing-scribbled aqua light –
I sense the current’s energy, as do
the birds, already tired, urging them
to one last burst of stamina, while I
abide – wingless, non-amphibious,
a creature not equipped for flight,
witnessing the passage of the river,
chevrons ranged on high,
listening as pinions cleave
trajectories through mild spring skies.
Published in Live Encounters (US), May 2021