Versus

by Elizabeth Trew

How we split in two –
friend or foe against another

as opposing sides in a field –
two armies powered for war
two soccer teams at play

two wrestlers in a ring who circle and dance
like lovers too shy to touch, when the star
drives a fist hard into the belly of the other
spread-eagled and groaning on the floor

or two lovers – like Adam and Eve
playful and naked under their tree
before Eve takes a bite of her crimson apple
and paradise fades

or the sounds of a man and woman falling out of love
fully clothed, caught in a squall
of their courtroom drama,
torn apart.

My Grandmothers’ Hands

by Elizabeth Trew

Grandma Helen’s hands were soft and white
spotted brown from African sun,
hands made to crochet long coloured strips
she’d stitch together – striped covers for family beds.
Hands to carry her work-bag of wool
hands to smooth huge feathered hats
hands to shuffle visiting cards
hands that played an upright piano.
She’d sit at the foot of my bed slowly plying her wool
with her crochet hook and sing sharply
her favourite song to me:
Count your blessings!
Count them one-by-one.

Farmor Karen’s hands were strong and red
used to shovelling Nordic snow,
hands to tend rows of raspberry canes
hands to dig and plant
and harvest potatoes
hands to bake bread, light fires
feed the pig and hold a farmer’s crook
to drive sheep up to their summer pasture.
Hands that tied her headscarf tight.
On a visit to the family seter
I placed fresh flowers upon her grave
and ceremonially watered them.
Family say I am like her.

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.