In half light

On Margaret Olley’s Dressing table (self portrait), 1982


The tilt of an old-fashioned
mirror-on-a-stand finds her.
On that carved platform

artefacts of contemplation,
the glass vessels of beauty,
become a luminous threshold

guarding her bereaved self.
Her dream gaze looks inward
and, at a sideways angle, outward.

The iris of her left eye
holds a catchlight
like a misshapen tear.

Set against the mirror,
a mask-image, lids steeply closed
in meditation, or death,

takes shape from arctic blue,
teal, and the chrome green
so loved by the artist.

Those same colours abide in
the wallpaper’s summer leaves
winding across backlit lapis –

sumptuous, yet end-of-day sombre:

the blue of mortality,
the blue of immortality.

Daylight fans in, leaving
half her face in shadow while
enfolding these chosen things,

precious or plain,
which speak the inspiration of
Chardin, of Morandi –

who laboured freely, exactly,
devotees of the numinous lure
of the inanimate.

Her musing self,
eye to eye with its double,
drinks, sip by sip,

a draught of truth
as the room, and the world,
fade, bloom.

Diane Fahey

Note: Dressing table (self portrait), 1982, painted after the death of Margaret Olley’s mother, can be found on the internet.



Diane Fahey is the author of thirteen poetry collections, November Journal (Whitmore Press 2017) the most recent. She has won major poetry awards, and has received literary grants from the Australia Council. Her poetry has been represented in over seventy anthologies. Diane holds a PhD in Creative Writing from UWS.

© 2021