Tale of an Australian Opal

i.m. Great Aunty Val, 1932–2017

This fairy-wren of a woman (oxygen tubed into her nose, head nestled in pillows) lifts each eyelid & with a hand too casually bruised, bids us round the cool blade of air into her corner of the hospice.

Grog & drugs had mucked up husband & kids, while a life on cigs has left her gasping for breath. Yet she’s alert, keen to see her great nephew & to meet his English fiancée.

Perched at her bedside, we exchange news, hear about the habits of birds & the great cetaceans she watches on TV. I’d like you to have this, she announces, apropos nothing, tugging a ring from her finger.

Bluey-green set in silver filigree, the warm teardrop flashes like fire on water as it tumbles into my palm. I’ve been waiting for the right person, she nods encouragingly.

Surprised & teary I stammer thanks, ask about its provenance, what it’s meant?

Its story starts with you, she replies, & I sense the gravity of this elder like a pebble bearing history silently down-river from the mountains.

Does it begin with Oceania’s Eromanga Sea & the Dreamtime Creator, who (I’d heard a First Australian say) slid down a rainbow, sparking life into such stones as a gift of peace for humans?

Lucky opal, I wear you proudly & remembering miners’ silicosis, ravaged Country, wounded souls – dark shadows of the settlers’ burning for all that glitters in the spirit.

Helen Moore

Listen to Helen reading ‘Tale of an Australian Opal’ (2:43).


Helen Moore is an award-winning British ecopoet. She has published three poetry collections, Hedge Fund, And Other Living Margins (Shearsman Books 2012), ECOZOA (Permanent Publications 2015), acclaimed as ‘a milestone in the journey of ecopoetics’, and The Mother Country (Awen Publications, 2019). Helen offers an online mentoring programme, Wild Ways to Writing, at www.helenmoorepoet.com

© text and audio 2020