Jena Woodhouse – Reading Leonard Cohen

Woodhouse LE P&W 6 Nov-Dec 2023

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14th Anniversary Edition, Live Encounters Poetry & Writing Volume Six Nov-Dec 2023.

Reading Leonard Cohen, poems by Jennifer Woodhouse.

Reading Leonard Cohen

Everyone sleeps late here on a Sunday.
I’m reading Leonard Cohen in the morning
hush, sipping bitter coffee
in the courtyard of the just,

with pots of sacred basil
to quench fire and dust, aware
that words of saint and sinner
can corrode to rust—

The singer clothes his prophecies
in gold and white,
his candle-lit apartment
under siege by ice—

he dreams of azure
islands that pulsate with life;
stations of a tainted cross,
perfidy, faith—

someone’s always leaving
or arriving— ennui and flux:
every poem a window or a door
to Weltschmerz, Wanderlust—

Stolen from the Sea

Aegean swordfish on the quay at Kalymnos
The staring eyes they couldn’t close,
since swordfish have no eyelids,
stunned into stasis by the sun
unfiltered by the sea;
the beauty of their pewter skin
without scales, as a dolphin’s is;
the long shaft of the nasal bill
echoed in their man-made name:
a weapon unfit to deflect
the fishermen’s harpoons, the nets—
The heavy, lovely, streamlined forms,
evolved for swiftness when submerged,
require two men to heft them
from the decks of caiques
to blood-stained dock,
their dense, sea-saturated flesh,
pelagic aphrodisiac, exuding
an olfactory trace of intimacy, puberty.
My thoughts whenever I see swordfish
fillets on display are of those suave,
aquatic torsos, lifeless on Aegean quays,
eyes dilated as in shock, torpedoes
plundered from the depths, supple
as no artificial artifact can ever be;
reduced to lumps of inert flesh
to pander to voraciousness—

First Bird

The unknown bird that sings
with ideal pitch and key—
his thirds and perfect fifths
dispersing grey light
on the eastern coast,
suffusing jacarandas
with an amethyst intensity—
interrogates the universe,
intoning with unceasing zeal,
as if each morning
saw the world reborn
in flawless purity.

Through closed eyes
he assails my hearing
joyously, insistently,
as if to call dulled senses
to bear witness
to the birth of day,
penetrating slumber’s
ragged edges with his clear
appeal, precluding all
reluctance to arise,
respond ecstatically—

I do not know
the bird’s name,
yet I seem to understand
his song, clear as a bell
that chimes within
a place of sanctuary.

In this bird’s cosmogony
the word for no
does not exist,
nor is he willing to concede
some things were never
meant to be;
he utters purer, truer notes
than any songbird
known to me,
but in the gloom
preceding dawn
his form
is hidden by the tree:

Miracles are not
to those who lack
love is the only
universal key,
the sacred mystery;
every time you love,
your spirit

The bird sang thus to me.

© Jennifer Woodhouse

Jena Woodhouse is the author of eight poetry collections, the most recent being Bitter Oranges: a memoir of Athens (Picaro Poets 2023), and Wild Country of Time (forthcoming from Ginninderra). Other publications include fiction for adults and children, an anthology of writing by contemporary Australian women (as co-compiler/editor) and works in translation.

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