2006 Porter Prize winner: 'Still Life with Cockles and Shells' by Judith Bishop

(Italian, c.17th; Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna)

Life breathes in this painting like a child
pretending not to be awake,

or a skink metamorphosed to a stone
but for the flutter in its flank.

You have to lean and listen for the heart
behind the shining paint,

the lips half-open, and the glittering eye.

Velvet of the night. A bald parrot on a parapet
watches to the east.

Ships listing on the waves
neither leave nor approach.

Someone has slain
five other birds: beaks, half-closed,

agonise in all directions.
A wash of unearthly light limes the sunken feathers.

What dreams the painter makes: I seem

to see inside the night
after Apocalypse,

when every soul has risen and sped off,
the violent seas at rest,

ships anchored and abandoned,
shells emptied of their monopods.

Or else the world has ended, but in
some other way;

and the parrot turns to give her
human greeting to the dawn.

Published in March 2006 no. 279
Judith Bishop

Judith Bishop

Judith Bishop lives in Melbourne, Australia, and has studied in the United States and Britain. She is Director of Linguistic Services at a multinational language technology company. Her poems have won many awards, including the Peter Porter Poetry Prize (2006, 2011), an American Academy of Poets University prize (2004) and the Marten Bequest Travelling Scholarship (2002-2004). Her translations from French poets (Philippe Jaccottet, Gérard Macé) have appeared in Australian and international journals. Her first book, Event (Salt, 2007), won the FAW Anne Elder award and was shortlisted for the CJ Dennis Prize, the Judith Wright Calanthe Award, and the ASAL Mary Gilmore Prize. She has recently published a second collection, Interval (UQP, 2018).

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