Self-Portrait

by Elizabeth Trew

On the dance floor, I’m full swing.
In galleries, I pause when a painting
speaks to me.
At home, I stand on my head to practise yoga,
stretch all ways to soften hard edges.
Each morning I greet the faithful avocado
that bears hundreds of children a year
in my yard, where white-eyes
red-wing starlings gorge on the vine.
I traverse high mountain fynbos into ravines,
walk hills of the neighbourhood
down to the city,
revisit poems by Neruda, Burnside,
Zagajewski who travels with dew
on a suitcase
to seek all things transformed.
At home I hear women poets:
lyrical Omotoso and Ndlovu, and sisterly
voices who say We are
in our volatile country
freed from an evil.
I listen to the blues of Muddy Waters,
late Beethoven and Schubert’s nocturnes,
singers with big voices: Evora,
spirituals sung by Jessye Norman.
I smell the coffee (Columbian ground) with friends
speak to sons, grandsons on Skype
stroke my husband’s back at night.
Full swing on dance days, artful
and still
no longer young I am drawn to shades of rust.
Burnt orange.

Earth to Sky

by Elizabeth Trew

Earth in her glory scatters blue light
in her changing sky
Earth that gives sky her waters
whose tidal flows heap with her moon
made luminous by night
Earth that joins sky
each day on a ruffled horizon
Earth that stretches each force
of her turning
knows every song, rhythm
each breath, voice of wind
Earth that kicks yellow sand into sky

Sky that touches Earth’s lakes, rivers, oceans
lifting gift waters
knows each watery form and colour –
spectrum haloes, arcs, rainbows
sun-dogs that follow the sun
sky that swirls over grasslands and mountains
bends into lush valleys
with winds that whirl, whistle and keen
over village and city
sky that brings dew to each desert
builds clouds of dark monuments
beats down its rain and rinses Earth clean

Earth in her poverty locked in her dungeon
bleeds battle-scarred
Earth looted besieged
Earth raped forsaken
rainforests taken
land and lakes garbage islands
Earth struggling to breathe
and renew ashy nests

Earth: home

The artist’s house

by Elizabeth Trew

In his naturalist hands his talisman –
a bee trapped in amber, tears
of the sun god Apollo.

In his frames he prints inky tadpoles,
fixes dragonfly wings to watercolours.
Into the first floor he ferries
fallen leaves found in shadowy underbrush,
patterns spring leaves like hands
against rubbled cities.
He singes and seals fallen leaf tones
onto parchment, murals of burnt oaks,
olives, charcoals, plastering his walls
with guttering nutmegs and cold copper leaves.

The apprentice upstairs opens tins –
powdered acrylics, intense coloured lights.
Into her pollens she mixes and stirs, adds
the sky’s tones and borrows from the master downstairs
a handful of charcoals, a few yellow tears.

Onto her walls she maps her city,
into her cauldron dips wide-shouldered brushes
the brilliance of reds, purples, blues.
Windows and doors become colour slabs
boiling light.
Black eyes of her flower heads
scatter eyelids.

She pours out her city’s florescence
spilling through skylight, cascading downstairs,
launching her scripts on his coppery bed.

The poem you are

by Elizabeth Trew

When you are in one of my poems
you are the wild child at my knee
the fearless youth, ebullient, strong
the gentle fugitive who ran away to work on farms
and somersault down glaciers
the prodigal who leaves and returns, leaves and returns
the traveler who drifts from place to place
in search of a dream. But you cannot sleep.

You arrive stricken and lonely at my door
on New Year’s day – barefoot,
for you gave your shoes
to a homeless man on the road.
I wish you stillness in the turning days.
I wish you could see in your darkness
your astonishing light,
the poem you are.

Lesbos

by Liz Trew

summer 2016

Lesbos, where Sappho, slender and passionate
in a light robe leaves us fragments – love-poems
to her daughter, her women, her island

and poet Elytis says, I give my hand to justice
diaphanous fountain, sublimest spring.
I fly in to the airport named after him.

Refugees came in their thousands across
the Aegean. So many brought from war
by water, pulled out to safety
some crushed to death inside their boats
some lost – drowned on their journey.

Days grow hot at the edge of blue ocean
the blueness of longing.
Olive trees inland rise in green waves
the sage-green of hope.

Along lines of tamarisk trees
voices of Babylon on the hot shore
where a mother finds her four children dead
and another struggles to give birth

we villagers gather to receive,
the love of others our belonging

Dimitri of Hotel Aphrodite
flings open his doors,
Aphrodite his daughter dishes out food,
The Dirty Girls collect worn clothes
to wash and return,
Malinda of Starfish cares for the women.

The summer calm. Migrants on
their long walk.
Roads and shore almost empty;
a few slashed rubber dinghies
a few wrecked wooden boats.
Someone has put flowers in a hut
built of lost oars and pieces of flotsam.

I walk on hot stones
sink into a volcanic-hot ocean
rise to cool off and swim.
On the road inland
I fetch bottles of spring water
from the hill fountain. As the sun sets
the image of Mount Athos
appears on the fiery horizon.
The child sleeps
under the summer moon.

Days grow hot O Babylon
Tis cool beneath the olive trees

Overnight to Beijing

by Elizabeth Trew

In the top bunk I listen to sounds in the dark –
voices far-off and the sleepers’ breathing
over the wheels clickety-clack on the tracks.

Waking at dawn I look down and see the old woman
sitting still by the window
after she opens the blind to check herself in the glass.

Back home I look out at another day
and picture the grandmother
utterly composed in her stillness, nourishing her light.

My Mother’s Journey

by Elizabeth Trew

Her first visit to my father’s country
my mother grips the sides
of my uncle’s boat,
steps out holding my arm,
waves and smiles to the family
at the water’s edge

makes her way
in a swirl of gulls and flaxen children –
high heels in the mud
summer dress fluttering
in the stink of goat and pig and pit-latrine.
A blond horse looms out of a cloud
and the flag of Norway flies
in her honour,
Olaf’s widow from Africa.

In a wooden house of embroidered cloths
and heavy tock of cuckoo clocks
she slowly chews the laid out feast
shut out of language she cannot speak,
begging me to open a window, please.
Her lip trembles at our gifts
sent from Africa –
wooden animals, buckskin shield
and my father’s bar of gold.

 

Fjord

by Elizabeth Trew

Fjord came from a carving of ice
inching slowly down valley
bedrock stoppers her mouth

her long limpid body of water
mingles glacier melt, inlet sea
bounded by mountains

her horizon sheers high as vision plumbs deep
soft body brooding shattered rock
scarred peaks, rolling hills

she ruffles her spectrum of colours
floats in her glass shifts of silver
grey green gold blue purple black

shuffles down her root girdle
scours her caves clutching at sea-salt
river-fat

lies valley bound
tempered and still
deeper than the sea outside

Lagoon

by Elizabeth Trew

Each drew new meaning from the waves’ collision.
Sea broke on land to full identity.
                                 Seamus Heaney, Lovers on Aran

 
The land rises and falls
battered by the hungry Atlantic
that mouths roughly along her shore.

Little by little the land gathers her strength.
Stepping into the waves she places her arm
into the sea to shield his blows.

Little by little her arm lengthens across his path.
He turns, flows softly into her channel,
her warm body yields to his gentle waves.

Land and sea join in the long afternoon.
She opens an eye, becomes a lagoon.