Poetic Pause

Poetry has been in a long pause this last year, with my ‘prose hand’ taking the lead. But I’m feeling dreamy today – the lull after the latest solar flare, perhaps – and bits of poems, lines and squiggles, have been floating by…

So I’ve decided to open the neglected poetry box and post one a month, starting with Orpheus, in the Desert (2011). It’s very nice to see him again…I hope you enjoy his company too…


Orpheus, in the desert


Morning light, the first day of his crossing

red dirt striped to soft maroon

he walks into dry land, remembering

the precise curve of her cheek;

sees it everywhere, in rounded granite

at his back, in cumulus drifts banked

against days of azure, now softened

to pearl-shell dawn.


Sand ripples out to the cloud-line, as if

the ocean crept here in the night

and dried to dust, waves frozen in grit

until the next hard easterly should sweep

it’s sculptor’s hand across the land,

etch new dips and ridges, like the line

of her lips opened on breath; he thinks

of Styx and Acheron.


Night water, velvet under ferryman’s oar

but here riverbeds are empty, waiting

on melodies of rain, notes of droplets,

fast-stoked torrents, a finer music

than gold-strung wires beneath his touch.

Harp of his longings; in this country

artesian underworlds spread vast silence

over her reflection.


Sun rays scrape his knuckles, not soft

in the valley of silt and spinifex. Spirits

start to fade, tall wandjina, stately, graceful

in their floating strides; late evening

they’ll return, heads rimmed in constellations

Southern Cross at their fingertips, searching

he catches a glimpse of his love’s pale shape

among the ghosts.


Dark shadow on the sand, wedgetail

circles in the light, watchful amber eye

the colour of a harp’s polished curve. Heat draws

serpents from dark dreams, their scales

brown or yellow-striped, too close an echo

– that bite – her slender finger punctured

he still sees her tumble down the path, so deep

the well of Hades’ sleep.


In this land he might start fresh, change

his name, rewrite his travel-worn lament,

decide to call her ‘swallowtail’ or ‘xenica’,

watch her new wings flash their gift, released

from the prison of his heart.  Might file

for migrant status, invoke Aegean blue

and oracles, myth’s long, unwinding thread

washed by wider skies.


He stoops, scoops up sand, lets it trail

thin ribbons on the wind. Even here, rains

will fall, paint countless blooms

to dusk’s horizon, nectar bowls for her

uncurling tongue, southern land’s ambrosia.

His footstep’s rhythm sets the beat, hand describes

an arch of hills, plucks from sunbaked air

tendrils of sweet liberty.

Orpheus and his Muse I (handwoven tapestry, 2004)

For the very keen, you can listen to an audio recording of the poem made for the ABC (Australian National Radio – Central West) in July, 2011, here. (Scroll down the page to the first audio bar; as with all my poetry, ‘Orpheus’ is written under the name Jo Mills)


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