SPOTLIGHT: Precious Mettle by Sarah Wallis

The Midas Girl

I am more precious now,
stock rising with each injection
as I take on more treasure, a pirate’s
gleam. Glimpsed through glasses
my corpuscles are encircled
with gold, the corona winks
up at the microscope and each time
the scientist must blink and smile,
they are turning me into an ingot
and with rude delight, compare
soaring notes as traders might.

The harbinger of age struck early
and now my fingers refuse to uncurl
as if they held something precious,
afraid of thieves, something more
than movement. If I were to be weighed
and sold I would amount to more
than the sum of myself, my fortune.
Flecks of yellow enter my eyes,
which are not hazel in daylight
but when the lamps dim and die
like a beacon, like a cat, they shine.

My Sister the Mermaid

A troca shell is a cone shaped marvel, once
a mermaid’s purse, this shell of other life, a silenced
flute or lyre, has been a companion piece of mine
since I was four, a sometime shiny dragon’s tooth,
or trader’s quill, a sea urchin’s diving gear, drilling
treasures from the rock and coral of another time,
now lies in dust, cracked, faded featureless on one
bookshelf or another, time passed, tales we told
ourselves things would get better, hurt less, a souvenir
of ocean tears, the disappearance of a sister half
explained, in this shell she was a mermaid, to flip
a fluke, a coin, her silver tail, be done with this world,
placed safe inside the silent bell, until one day a want
of water and tale to spill, shattered peace of pearly shell.

The Persephone Room

See the stucco walls in pale washed pink,
thin lines of trees raised up in silhouette
and dotted precious
with bright, gold, pomegranates,

spaced in time like planets, and set
to spin out the seasons of a hollow promise,
secret wedding banns posted,
the gold glinting and delicate balanced branches

seen by a candlelight set supper, ever a trick
to catch a girl on a darkling promise
of living in a different time,
another space, the room glimmers a threat

of change in the weather, shower of sparks
priming a cosy catch, romance spicing the dark.

And somewhere over and above adventuring,

the keen of a mother’s six-month spaced grief.

A Box of Opal Fish

Clumsy, Western and terrified, I am the buyer.

The jeweller’s workshop in Shanghai reeks
of green tea and pink roses; incongruous
and well past blown, clinging on,
a death scent hangs about their skirts.

Mr Wang, tall as a fir tree, is the maker.

His dark eyes picked out by angry pinprick spots
of light, much like the dots of colour in all
the opalescent, broken shoal flooding the floor.

There is no apology I can make that will mend
his anger and hurt pride. I am to be banished.

Each year, in spring, I make the journey, hoping
the maker might thaw with the snow, as he begins
his task again. But I always find him the same,
cross-legged, furious and refusing to speak,

carving minute, delicate fingernail shaped scales
into the opal, finding the fish
that wants no water to swim, only the light.

Seventeen years pass…

One year I find him dressed head to toe in white,
his face lined with sadness. His son had died.
Without ceremony, tea or conversation,
he motioned me to choose my fish and they, open-

mouthed as I, wink up from the boxes
and boxes lined up on the shelves, the sum
of all these long years, filled
to the brim with perfectly carved opal fishes.


The girl speaks with fluency and easy
breath on the stage, the rich textured timbre

and clotted cream quality of her voice chimes
with an affinity for the performance to come,

she moves me too much to speak up
so I look down at the polished mirror

surface of the stone, the heirloom shines bright.
I remember when I did not like you, a hematite

ring in a velvet-lined box, sided with so many
sisters, my mother trying to choose just one.

I did not know you, just a sales girl,
patient, probably bored in that role but even

then, a secret diamond in her dark lakes,
a dream to pursue. Hot lights in her glittering

eyes, ready for new direction and I think how
strange that she was the salesgirl that day

strange how the ring represents one stage of liquidity.

A Jewel for Esmeralda

Past closing time and a huddle of heads peer
down into a velvet drawstring bag, a game

of chance, a game of luck, a game of stones
to be bingo called, by prospect and by plot,

three women of generational difference
cast about inside for a new cleaned jewel,

one in a wheelchair, one in a mac, one with her
hair half tied back, flying free, whipped

by the breeze, they lean down to see the emeralds
wink, their history a sparkle of tease,

memory holding to stone, the rings handed out
in turn, one for you, one for you,

and a new jewel for Esmeralda, to bring loyalty
to bring domestic bliss,

they laugh and advise; you can always sell on,
if they don’t work their magic,

then escape with this treasure and stone, decline
his sweet embrace and come on home,

the woman in the wheelchair twists, holds up
a clutch of diamonds flashing bright

saving her daughter a lighthouse, shining in the night.

Flashmob in Goldfinch & Brass

Goldfinch gossip on the seawall, peck to treat
and charm the passerine way, filling in as backing

group to the park bandstand, where the brass section
tune up for the Ode to Joy, just as the percussionist

crashes his cymbals and all are sent into silence
to begin, quietly, for brass, so the birds tremulous,

tuneful warble floats for a moment, above
the rising rumble of gathering sound, above trumpet,

trombone, tuba, and euphonium, until redcaps,
the siskins in their midst, must desist and open

wide mouths to sing astonishment
at such a sound, we find it here too, in this moment,

the Ode overwhelming, over-spilling our own
capacity to be contained out here in the open, where

old men at chess cry freely, nannies and children stamp
their feet in time, their charges swing from lampposts,

conducting wildly and as the rousing drumbeats ring
out the finale, the green, green world erupts into cheers,

into thunderous applause
and the finches ghost fast, flash red and gold, depart.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s