Monday, August 12, 2013

Tuesday Poem - Opal by Judy Johnson


Perhaps against no other gem has the bigotry of
superstitious ignorance so prevailed as against the
wonderful opal
            — Isadore Kozminsky, The Magic and Science of Jewels and Stones.

The names could be those of pedigree stallions:
Tabasheer, Menilite
                     Harlequin, Contra Luz.

With reds like rubble on fire
or a pair of pink-silk ballet shoes

across a stone floor 
                     by their ribbons.

The blue-greens are half air, half ocean
the eyes of knowing tom cats
          peeking from inside an aurora australis.

The gem in my ring is dying
                   through my neglect.

Composed of a measure of water
opals must be worn habitually 

so they might feast
                   replenishing themselves

on sweaty fingers
          or the nape of a neck.

They need natural light
to show their true colours.

That is all they are, really:
thirst and ball-bearing tricks
                    of reflection, refraction.

My sister, on her deathbed insisted
I inherit the ring to prove
                               our family legend wrong:     

that from that point on
no death would follow
          each instance
                     of its being worn.

I took possession to appease her
but have had to invent
        my own rules of engagement

as I did with boys all those years ago.

First date, external touches
         of the closed velvet case.

                     Second date
a cautious lifting of the lid.

I can’t or won’t
                    go all the way.           

The opal in my ring is dying:
         losing the potency of its colours
                                         becoming crazed.

How can I blame it for wanting to thrive?                           

The multicoloured eye
in the fairytale oval mirror
                             of its gold setting

mocks me as frigid, or glares
a chromatic challenge

or glints in the visual pheromones
of seduction:  
                    bedroom light on jigsaw colour.

It aches for me to pick it up, slip it slowly
past the tip of my finger

        all the way down the length of the shaft.

Only then would we really
                                           know each other.

And tomorrow, we could walk together in the sun.

         It’s dangerous, staring into the box too long
                   knowing my opal ring
                               has already forgotten my sister.
        Knowing that if I reach out
                   and do this one small thing
                               in return, it promises to love me
                                                                  and ever.

New book out from Judy Johson courtesy of Walleah Press in Tasmania!

I heard Judy read this poem up in Newcastle and it really got to me and I was astonished when Judy told me it had never found a good home in a magazine or journal before it was tucked away into the book. But that can happen to even the most well-endowed of poems, they go out and about but they just don’t catch someone’s eye. They are read after midnight at the end of a long run of reading, or they get tucked under the in tray and don’t get read at all, or just as the editor sits to read them the window cleaner arrives, or someone rings with a thorny question, or it’s lunchtime. And that’s that. They don’t get picked up.


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