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Live Encounters Poetry & Writing April 2023
Dionysian Presences, poems by Jena Woodhouse
This is the hour of the ghosts’ repose:
cicadas rub their bellies on bark
surfaces warmed by the sun
and improvise erotic pagansong;
acacias dream beneath their wreaths of green
and mould their fingered roots like hands
about earth’s potsherds, gold, and bones.
As evening falls the spectres stir,
emerge to mingle with the air,
their bantering a breeze that parts the drapes
and lifts the hair. Their footfalls rustle
in the street like leaves, although no leaves
lie there. They take their places
on the crescent tiers, beneath the rising moon,
and watch the spectacle reveal what brings
the high and mighty low: what Sophocles
has done this year, the new-wave Aristophanes –
the satyr-play, prelude to tavern wine
and bawdy company, will see them home by dawn,
until the morrow’s new scenario. Strangers,
jostled on the subway by they know not whom, scramble
for the surface world as if pursued. They need not fear.
The ghosts are riding jauntily, up from their cosy lair,
amused by the oddities of newcomers, without a care.
Wherever Dionysos is celebrated, they’ll be there.
Vicinity of ancient Theatre of Dionysos, Athens, Greece
Theatre of Dionysos
City of Athena
You were already ancient
when we met, white city of my soul.
Your earlier selves lay beneath my feet,
their presences revealed subconsciously,
uncoiling from sleep’s labyrinth
to surface in our dreams,
in the apartment shaded by acacia trees,
downhill from the Theatre of Dionysos
where Zitrou intersects Mitsaion Street.
Insects whirl like maenads
in the precinct of the god-ephebe,
winged nuptials of swarming ants
that last a single day,
while in the grove
the jays and wrens and thrushes
sing as lovers might,
luminous with youth’s vitality.
I am glad this city that has captivated me
surely will survive me by millennia;
yet I regret that one life span,
a mote in time, is incomplete,
too ephemeral to grasp its mysteries.
Shadow becomes shade when she
who cast it on the stones
expires; phantom vessels put out
from the harbour at Piraeus,
never yet diminishing
the city’s boundless treasuries,
nor depleting Dionysian energies;
and so I leave the spectacle
reluctantly – entranced, beguiled –
to actors and tragedians; singers, dancers,
muses, sages; Athena’s little owls, her olive trees
and festal rites; temple animals; time’s questing strangers –
While Athena was the foundational and patron deity of
Athens, and the ancient city’s major festival was the Panathenaia,
the civic celebration second in importance was the Great
Dionysia – in honour of the god Dionysos, patron deity of theatre –
the central events of which were the theatrical performances
of dramatic tragedies and, from 487 BCE, comedies, in the
Theatre of Dionysos at the foot of the Acropolis.
© Jena Woodhouse
Jena Woodhouse has book publications in poetry (seven books and chapbooks), adult fiction and children’s fiction. Her writing has received awards in all three genres. She spent more than a decade living and working in Greece, where she was employed as an arts journalist for a subsidiary of the International Herald Tribune, and has also spent time in a number of other western, central and east European countries. She has been awarded creative residencies in Scotland, Ireland, France and Greece. Her interest in archaeology, the arts, languages and cultural history, travel and the natural environment are sources of inspiration for much of her writing. Her forthcoming publication is a micro-collection: Bitter Oranges: an Athens Memoir (Picaro Poets 2023).
One Reply to “Jena Woodhouse – Dionysian Presences”
Both poems create beautiful and mysterious images and show the love the poet has for places some of us can only hope to visit.