2 poems by Jilly O’Brien

Jilly O’Brien’s poetry is published in journals, newspapers, anthologies was displayed on ice in Antarctica, on benches in Dunedin, and on parking tickets. She was finalist in the Monica Taylor International Poetry Competition, and highly commended in the Charles Causley Int Poetry Competition (2020).


Black tea 

strong enough for a mouse to trot on

a vat of tea

for parched cyclists who pass by

hot in the head, bruises on the backside

dragonflies meniscus-skimming

damsel flies darting 


we swimmers

refracted legs luminescent 

and kicking

blow frantically on the surface 

of this pekoe blend as if it were scalding

although it is altogether for the opposite reason

that we blow hard

swim fast

across the middle to the deeper end

where the stillness is

where tannins are stewed, less stirred

and the layered colds thrill.

We manoeuvre our feet back to the surface 

to check they are not fishtails

because we are drawn to go there

and to say afterwards that we have been


Driving in dimpsy down Highcliff from Hereweka a hare runs out in the headlights, reignites forgotten stirrings, lights ancient algorithms that fan the flames of lost magic to burn bright, exposing korako in their shadow-hidden thousands waiting for the storm to bite, intent on swapping your child for a spiteful one whilst you keep your eyes on the road. The hare runs fast and far down the hill, away from the astral milk she spilt, away from the tiny clothes she stole, protecting children like mine until first light by running in headlights. Later she’ll put down a good furze fire so korako have some comfort and won’t wander the world lost, looking for home.

Note: ‘Te Ana Korokoraka’ is the Māori name for the fairy cave on Hereweka (or Harbour Cone) on the Otago Peninsula, which is important in the story of Tarewai, the great Kāi Tahu warrior. ‘Korako’ is one of the Māori names for fairies.

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