A Selection of Poems from SECRET LEOPARD by Rosemary Nissen-Wade

Bye-Bye Barbie
A fable of Leah’s dolls

Betty with the home-made clothes
glares across the room at Barbie
who is shop-dressed, brand new,
buxom and coolly smiling.

Betty with the home-made hate
sidles across the room on her rag bum
sneakily, bit by bit, so Leah won’t see.
She is dragging the toy soldier’s axe.

Betty with the built-up hours
of staring across the room
has been inventing stories.
She is calling herself Cinderella.

She is calling herself Beauty
and Orphan, and Princess – and right.
Barbie, watching round-eyed, is mesmerised
as Stepmother/Ogre/Troll lunges for her blood.

© Rosemary Nissen-Wade 1990
First published
Second Degree Tampering (Sybylla 1992)
Walking the Dogs (Pariah Press anthology)
Also in
Secret Leopard: New and selected poems 1974-2005, Alyscamps Press (Paris) 2005


My stepfather showed me oceans.

Now these midnight moments
call and flesh the ketch
from childhood,
dusted by moonlight,
perfectly still
at the end of the pier.

That New Year’s Eve we danced
in circles on the sand.
Sand and sea joined flat.
We might have walked straight out
with no dividing breath.

‘St. Elmo‘s Fire,’ he said
pointing, as flame without wind
blew in the bare poles
leaving them clean.
The moon’s long wake
pierced the horizon.

My stepfather gave me boats.
Tonight he’s dying,
I’m far from home.

Twin masts faintly gilded
rise perfectly still
through all my seas, all ships
poised ever since,
a track of light
widening across the water.

Gone by morning.

© Rosemary Nissen 1981
Universe Cat, Pariah Press (Melb.) 1985
First published

Also in Secret Leopard: New and selected poems 1974-2005, Alyscamps Press (Paris) 2005
Set to music by Clive Price

The Sword of Archangel Michael

The sword glows
in my right hand.
My arm swings from the shoulder
wielding blue flame:
sharp light, the cut of truth.

Precise moves.
Economy. Bite.
These are the qualities.
These and blue light —
a laser that heals where it touches.

In the beginning
the word.
The word true,
the word precise,
the word deliberately aimed.

It cuts to the heart,
my sword in flight.
From the heart of God
to the point of now
exactly aimed,
quick light.

© Rosemary Nissen-Wade 1995
First published
Divan (e-zine) issue 4, Dec. 2001.
Also in
Secret Leopard: New and selected poems 1974-2005, Alyscamps Press (Paris) 2005

The Goddess Without

Mickie said,
“You have a Goddess tummy.
I love to work on it.”
I’d wanted her Lomi Lomi massage
to melt it away, make it
hard and lean like Halle Berry’s
when she played the latest Bond girl.
Instead I found myself weeping
in exquisite relief. I —
to be seen naked and found beautiful!
Always I saw myself ugly.

I look in the bathroom mirror now
and see the archetype:
Venus of Willendorf —
only my breasts are plumper,
less pendulous,
the skin of my belly
smoother, unwrinkled yet.
Has everyone been wrong,
that statue not Mother, but Crone?
She is how grandmothers look!
I claim my ancient beauty.

© Rosemary Nissen-Wade 2005
First published
Secret Leopard: New and selected poems 1974-2005, Alyscamps Press (Paris) 2005

The Day We Lost the Volkswagen

During a momentary lull in her head,
the poor old thing lost her grip.
The boat she was towing towed her instead
ponderously down the slip.
backwards into the water.

For a swirling moment she almost floated,
she thought of setting sail.
But her bum tilted, her britches bloated —
she was heavy in the tail —
and the sly seaweed caught her.

I thought even then she might make a try
(she seemed to be righting her flank)
but she spun gravely, one eye on the sky,
gave a dignified splutter and sank.
The sea frothed briefly.

I don’t know — she wasn’t the kind to drift,
much less come apart at the seams.
But the sails and the clouds that day had a lift,
and perhaps she had some dreams.
It was a damn nuisance, chiefly.

© Rosemary Nissen 1974
from Universe Cat, Pariah Press (Melb.) 1985
Secret Leopard: New and selected poems 1974-2005, Alyscamps Press (Paris) 2005
First published
Nation Review.
Also in:
A Second Australian Poetry Book for Children, Oxford
Secondary English Book 3, Macmillan
Off the Record, Penguin
Penguin Book of Australian Women Poets.


Down near the flat rocks at the pool
the secret leopard sniffs the day.
He tilts his head by the striped bamboo,
calling me: come and play.

When I was seven, and nine, and twelve,
I watched for his furious, bell-shaped head,
but they always dragged me back from the track.
'He is terrible,' they said.

They stuffed my ears with cottonwool,
they tied my hands and feet to the bed,
but still the house shook silkenly
to his broad, electric tread.

That was a long, long time ago.
Now I am grown and free to run
to the white rocks and the dim bamboo
and the velvet hood of the sun.

He has been waiting by the yellow pool,
padding the black leaves patiently,
holding the flame in his narrow eyes,
wild and slow as the sea.

His handsome haunches are molten gold,
his perilous paws flow red through the shade.
You may mew forever from your pitiful bed —
I am deep in the spiky glade.

I will not tell of the spotted jungle
with silver trees that eat the sun.
I will not tell of the tawny trails
where I and the lavish leopard run.

© Rosemary Nissen 1974 
from Universe Cat, Pariah Press (Melb.) 1985
First published A Second Australian Poetry Book for Children (Oxford)
Also in Secondary English Book 3, Macmillan and Secret Leopard, Alyscamps (Paris), 2005

Walk With This Spirit
(A meeting of the Kingscliff-Cudgen Reconciliation Circle)

No wonder it's called Rosella Tomato Sauce —
they're that red, lined up on the wide rail.
But their yellow-green wings can't be compared
to any tree or grass, or even the ferns
crowding up and over the high verandah
They are unique, and have their own colour.
Bright. Bold. In your face
like the big Reconciliation badge I wear:
red, green and yellow, black and white.

"Walking Together" it says. And we sit together,
a circle of Australians, indigenous and non.
We sit together talking, even after the last light
strikes the opposite hill in a sudden blaze.
We're dreaming up a monument,
a reminder of who came first —
something to touch, like the rock or tree
that has always been the place
to speak to ancestral spirits.
We dream it could heal all hearts.
We invent phrases, like, "Walk with this spirit."

Somebody mentions earth.
Grey beard, gentle eyes, brown face,
a man of measured words.
"What do you mean exactly when you say earth?"
I ask, flushed and earnest, wanting to get it right.
"Australia? This bit of land? Or the whole planet?"
For the first time, he stammers.
"All that. The earth supports us.
She is our Mother!" His eyes fill with tears.
We fall silent. On the rail, the Rosellas jostle.
The forested valley begins to grow dark.
We sit together, sipping coffee, watching
one green patch of shared, beloved earth.

© Rosemary Nissen-Wade 2000
First published
Secret Leopard: New and selected poems 1974-2005, Alyscamps Press (Paris) 2005


Responses to Rosemary's poetry

For more poetry by Rosemary, go to her poetry blogs, The Passionate Crone, Enheduanna's Daughter, and her 'mindful writing' blog, Stones for the River.


From The Smoking Poet 
Book Review by Zinta Aistars

Secret Leopard: New & Selected Poems 1974-2005 by Rosemary Nissen-Wade

124 pages
Publisher: Alyscamps Press, 2005
ISBN: 0-9764509-1-7

The Australian poet Rosemary Nissen-Wade writes in her poem titled, “Crossing the Great Water:”
Words are such useless things
compared with the touch of a hand,
a smiling mouth, a soft eye…
Useless things, words. But all we have
when we live so distant.
All that we have to cross
the great spaces of air and ocean
lengthening between us.
But Nissen-Wade has taken those “useless words” and given them wings to cross the space between the poet and the reader. In an extensive collection of poetry written over a span of more than 30 years, we are witness to the poet’s literary growth. Her topics are large and timeless, yet Nissen-Wade brings them home to the individual reader in the everyday, unadorned words we all know, and with words that reach to the hidden heart, where large things live: love, death, faith, hope — and just in time, without waste, aimed true. In “Supreme Compliment,” she writes:
I miss one lover.
Easy man, unfurling
as a fronded fern to sip the sun
The fragile core firming,
stretching alive. Sensitive
in touch and movement,
playfully intent.
He made love like a woman.
The whole person.
In admirable economy of words, Nissen-Wade sums up the wish of women everywhere, the struggle for what satisfies and lasts, the largesse of love for person from person, without a hint of unnecessary drama, no soapbox in sight, no garish decoration, because none is needed. This is the lover she misses, this one, and none of the others. In that, saying it all.
Other near perfect poems are “Incarnation” (“What ancient wind now sucks and cries/at our stones and walled places?), “Autumn” (“lost faces/drifting on memory”), and again the stunning economy of words expressing something nearly too big for words in “The Same Valleys” (“I’m with you and alone, it’s quiet, my outline fills”). Nissen-Wade’s talent is in using the bare bones of big ideas and letting the reader fill in their own outlines with the echo of their own experiences. She says, simply, what we suddenly recognize we have been trying and trying to say all along, now only gasp in recognition: yes! That’s it… exactly.
An occasional miss, as in “Writing the Prison” or a section called “From Small Poems of April, 1991” that could be eliminated entirely without lessening the value of the whole, doesn’t keep this collection from being an overall poetic goldmine. Even in that obligatory poem every poet seems to eventually write in some version about writing itself, Nissen-Wade’s “Always the Writing” is fresh and personal. The collection concludes with a fitting series of goodbye poems, written about the poet’s mother and a friend named Karen, observing and capturing the process of human disintegration without melodrama or pity.
“…Each word brings me/closer to the edge of being singular,/discovering my own pains and rewards…”
It takes courage to take on the turning points of life, the rites of passage, but what else truly matters? Nissen-Wade has not only the courage, but the skill and talent to do so successfully.

A Review of Andrew Wade's JORELL

From  The Smoking Poet

Book Review by Zinta Aistars


* Softcover, 112 pages
* Publisher: 1st ed. Aust. Booksellers Assoc.,
2nd ed. Life Magic

* ISBN: 978-0-9752485-1-5

“For those who believe in fairies .... and those who don’t.”

Fairies... do I believe in them? I had to wonder as I read this slim book by Andrew E. Wade, an Australian author. I wasn’t sure into which category I land, believer or non. Surely I believed as a child? And I remember well how my own children believed when they were small, peeking into bushes, checking behind tree leaves, listening to the rustling in the wind. Perhaps I fall into the group of those who want to believe...
Whatever your outlook on fairies, anyone can enjoy the story of Jorell. She is a tiny fairy in Australian woods who guards the forest, but also seems to keep a kind eye out for the occasional good human who wanders into her woods. Eight-year-old Tim is one of those humans. Jorell is taken by surprise when the boy can, in fact, see her, as few humans can. Certainly not as they grow older, inhibited by their own disbelief, their own “unreadiness” to open their eyes and see. But once the two have established that they can indeed interact, and they become comfortable with “mind-talking,” or telepathy, as the preferred mode of communication, it turns out they can help each other in a collaboration between species.
Little Tim’s father, as it turns out, works at the nearby sawmill, and the story of Jorell takes on an environmental message. It is not a simple problem with a simple solution. The loggers are sawing down an old-growth forest. But to save the forest would mean putting many out of work. Add to that Tim’s problem with convincing his father, a very rational and logical man who doesn’t believe in such as fairies, and the conflict of the story is set up.
It is no easier for fairies to believe in good humans. Jorell must convince her own kind to trust them to help in saving the forest:
“...why do you trust him? He has no understanding of us. He and his [human] kind are upsetting the balance of nature - cutting and burning trees, polluting the air, destroying the animals, turning the land into desert, blasting great wounds into the hills and mountains, and forcing more and more of us to withdraw to the forests. What makes this manchild different?
“All that you have said is true, Kraw. I do not excuse what has and is still being done. But humanity is not evil. Most humans are peaceful, loving and kind. They want to live in friendship. It is easy to see the bad deeds, less easy to see the good ones. If we give up, not trusting in the power of love, we are lost...”
A strong message, and true. But will it be enough? And in time? Tim must convince his cynic father of the life in the forest, but he must also come to understand that jobs without a healthy environment are meaningless. He must also convince his young classmates at school, and his teacher, to assist in this effort. Fairy and manchild are fully dependent on each other to solve a shared problem.
This is a charming tale with an important message, suitable for young children, but enjoyable for an adult who perhaps enjoys reading to children. The language is pretty bare bone, the dialogue a tad stilted and unadorned with the detail that might truly bring the scene to life, nevertheless, the merits outweigh these shortcomings.
To learn more about the author and his own experiences with a fairy named Jorell, inspiration for this tale, visit Andrew and his wife Rosemary's blog, The Truth About Fairies.

Responses to Rosemary's Poetry

Rosemary Nissen-Wade is both original and a powerful voice—a voice of humanity in all its suffering and joy.…These are poems of great immediacy and power—but the one word that has been, most accurately, used to describe their underlying unity is love.
– Karl Orend, former Manager of Shakespeare & Company, Paris.

These are poems that look with a steady and perceptive eye on poetry’s grand themes – love, death, the natural world – but can spare a sideways glance for things small and things fantastic – the warmth of a cat curled on the bed, unicorns in the laundry.
— Jennifer Strauss, poet, critic and Honorary Senior Research Fellow at Monash University, Melbourne.

... tough-minded when that’s needed, she can be hauntingly, delicately moving ...’
Philip Martin, poet, critic and translator.

Rosemary, I cannot tell you what a relief it is to read your poetry. It's actually beautifully written! You have no idea how many REALLY BAD books I have been given to read. So when I find one that's a joy I nearly lose my mind with delight! THANK YOU for sending this to me! It truly is a lovely book!
– Vila SpiderHawk, author

Don't minimise your ability to reach, to reach out. People will need poetry. Healing works on a level in which there is something wrong. Poetry gets to the core, the heart. That is the pertinence of poetry now. It is essential for people to have access to poetry as a means for activation of the heart.
– Raeline Brady, Reiki/SKHM Master, Vibrational Essence Practitioner

Readers' Responses to 'Jorell'

~ environmental fairy story by my late husband, Andrew E. Wade ~


Your book makes me believe in fairies. It is my favourite book that I've got and hope other people like it too. Also your book makes me feel happy, light as a feather and loving of my sister and my mum and dad. It makes my dad feel happy in heart. The book to my mum makes her feel she can do anything. The book makes my sister feel pretty. I would like you to write more of this book. I will pass it on to my children. Your book makes me think fairies are part of my family. Your book makes me feel like I can fly and I hope it makes other people feel they can do the same.
Coen Jennings-McKay 8yrs (2007)

I looked forward to Daddy reading it to us every night. I liked all of the story.
Emilia McDonald 5 years

Most exciting story I’ve read in ages. Very lively.
Joe Jackson 8 years

Jorell is a wonderful story of a young boy called Tim who sees a fairy in the forest and tells his parents. His Dad gets angry and says he’s talking nonsense. It was very beautiful in a way that made you think twice about the possibilities in life. I love the descriptions as I could get a very clear picture in my head in every scene and of every fairy.
Cassandra King 12 years


I absolutely love your book. The last chapter was wonderful. It brought tears to my eyes as I read it. I can't begin to tell you how wonderful your story is. I don't think you will have any trouble selling this. It is such an important message to share with all.
Patricia Bennett, Writer

Thank you so much for introducing me to Jorell......and so vividly transporting me into the realm of nature spirits with ease. I devoured the book in a couple of hours giggling, crying and belly laughing all out loud. My inner child is in ecstasy! Every school and library in the world should have this wonderful book in stock.
Thank you,
Blessings to you and this delightful story
Raeline Brady, Vibrational Essence Practitioner

Jorell is a feel good "Faery Tale" told from the perspective of a young boy named Tim. In it he makes believers out of us all. The story gets us in touch with the earth and the magic of life as we may or may not know it. It transports us into a time of our own childhood when we believed in a lot of things we may not believe in as an adult. Faeries were much more real to us when we were children. So it is good to touch base with the reality and innocence of that child we all once were through the eyes of Tim and his Faery friends. The story has a great environmental message too which should be read to or by all children, adults and politicians. After all it is the responsibility of adults to teach children the value of saving the environment. This book is a great tool for that. And as we know, it is the children who will change our world for the better in the future...along with the faeries of course. I don't know about the politicians!
Michelle Ball, Entrepreneur

I loved the book, I read it in one sitting and couldn't wait for my grand-daughters to read it. Reading Jorell took me on a magical journey! It transported me into the mind and body of a small boy who has a belief in the enchantment of a world that few adults remember or experience. I loved the tapestry woven into the story of not just magic but also protecting our environment. The book was wonderful and I would highly recommend it.
Diane McCann, "Beyond the Ordinary"

I just returned from a 3 weeks trip and I took your manuscript with me to read on the plane. I LOVED it. The story is so sweet and thought provoking at the same time. I think my son will love it.
Liz Thompson, Co-Founder, Healthy Wealthy nWise.com

The story educated me in the presence of devas and their relationship with Nature and people. Andrew’s description of the naturefolk was authentic, believable and detailed. It is a brave plea for the triumph of the Heart over the sad domination of Mind, in our personal lives and the world.
Penelope Williams, Life Coach

The late Eileen Caddy, co-founder of the Findhorn Community, the inspiration for the story of Jorell, was the first person to see the manuscript. She wrote:

This is just to let you know that I received the manuscript of your delightful fairy story. I read it and was delighted with it. It is charming with a real message in it. I love children’s stories especially when they have a message to them as yours has.
with love and many blessings

(Regretfully Eileen passed away before the book was published.)