Poetic wandering….

With a bit of a nudge from a friend (thank you, Nicole), I’m going to post a few poems…beginning with those that have been voice-recorded. The first one, Orpheus, in the Desert, was recorded for ABC radio in 2011 after winning the open poetry section of the Banjo Paterson Writing Awards. Very timely, as I’ve just sent off a poem for this year’s award, at the eleventh hour (entries close tomorrow)!

This was recorded over the phone, with one hour’s notice, on a single take…whew,  more than few deep breaths taken beforehand. The ABC set it beautifully to music – a real treat.

For my non-Aussie friends, Banjo Paterson is honoured as a long-time local hero in his hometown, Orange (and Australia in general). He wrote verse prolifically in the late C19, most famously ‘Waltzing Matilda’ and ‘The Man from Snowy River’.

I’ve had other poems win and place in this award, and will post them soon.

Here’s the audio file for Orpheus, in the Desert – scroll down the page to the first audio track:


Here’s the text version:

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.


I wove the tapestry below while writing a sequence of ‘Orpheus’ poems. The figures in the tapestry are based on those in a painting by Edmund Jeanes, Orpheus and his Muse, late C19.

'Orpheus II'; handwoven tapestry, 130cmx95cm, wool, cotton, silk.

‘Orpheus II’; handwoven tapestry, 130cmx95cm, wool, cotton, silk.

I see shades of Orpheus in The Siaris Quartet, especially from the second novel, Reunion, onwards… (for those who know the myth…or who don’t…Orpheus lost his love Eurydice to a snakebite, and followed her soul into the Underworld, in an attempt to win her soul back from Hades’ keeping. A bargain was made for her release, but Orpheus failed to keep it).

In Siaris, this theme takes a gender reversal, and a rather different bargain, the long-term consequences of which I am currently sorting out in Book Four.

Reunion is available from Musa here or from Amazon here.


9 thoughts on “Poetic wandering….

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