Daphne, older, and still unfolding

by Rose Lucas

 Thoughts like leaves   have hidden me
 tressed in the language of
 branch and twig         the promise of 
 bloom, its heady spring
 a grove has grown around me 
 soft whisper of companions.             elders and
 young.           the tendrils
 of our roots twine         we talk and
 listen through hours of dark.   the swaying of seasons
 pungent heat of afternoons
 the remembered ripeness of my youth –
 its too easily perforated skin
 the sweet sap          leached
 into time’s desiccations
 that sandy soil;
 All leaves do finally wither.   and this
 rough bark of my body          beautiful          will be
 tapped             like a vein
            so that memories 
 cauled and bloody 
 might stream into the breach
                     still running -
  into this heart-heft of soil 

In Metamorphoses, Ovid described the young Daphne, pursued by the god Apollo, requesting transformation in order to escape him:

a heavy numbness seizes her limbs,
her soft breasts are girded by thin bark,
her hair grows into foliage, her arms into branches,
her foot, just now so swift, clings by sluggish roots,
her face has the top of a tree: a single splendour remains in her.
(lines 547-552)

There are many images which represent this youthful and desperate transformation, Bernini’s famous sculpture being only one of them (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollo_and_Daphne_(Bernini) ). I wondered what it would have been like as the years went by, as Daphne grew into an established and aging tree. As an older woman myself, I wanted to explore the beauty and resilience – as well as the losses – that can be found precisely because of our passage through the many cycles of time.

Rose Lucas is a Melbourne poet and academic at Victoria University. Her first collection, Even in the Dark (UWAP 2013) won the Mary Gilmore Award; her second collection is Unexpected Clearing (UWAP 2016). She is currently completing her third collection, This Shuttered Eye. Her poems have been widely published in literary journals.

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