• Lizz Murphy and Barbara Holloway

On Lizz Murphy, Noctua

Lizz Murphy’s contribution is ‘Noctua’, and the epigraph reads: Noctua NGC 3587 was a nebula near the tail of Hydra — it is no longer recognized. It’s also the name of the owl of the Greek goddess of wisdom, Athena. How appropriate an owl is for a night celebrating the nexus between women, science and poetry. There have been many distinguished women Australian ornithologists, from Elizabeth Gould to Gisela Kaplan (the author of the Encyclopaedia of the Australian Magpie, published about three years ago). Lizz’s poem segues between mythological dimensions of the owl perched on Athena’s blind side, so that Athena has 360º vision (which you would need for wisdom, wouldn’t you). The poem moves through ornithological details about eye and feather, and the owl’s ability to strike silently and suddenly. The poet brings it to a personal note at the end. She would not be an owl, she says — she doesn’t want to get mixed up in fur and blood. Yet she stays with Athena, I note, to purvey the findings of science through this beautiful pacing, turning effect, into what retains an ominous sense to the end. Don’t be fooled by the lentil casserole.

Barbara Holloway




Noctua NGC 3587 was a nebula near the tail of Hydra — it is no longer recognized


Athena of the gray eye believed Owl revealed truths kept her on her blind side Owl with those cheek feathers whipping sound into her ears  the flinch of a small mammal  hope’s avid endeavour  any heroic thought  Wise Owl her spine-snapping talon on Athena’s shoulder Athena striking madness as she saw fit


Bride of the night
crone of the night
your eye darkens
the other turns away
Your high perch
such ambitious prey

waiting for the next
Over there
something pelts down
the browning slope
vanishes into a valley
On muffled
manoeuvring wing


All those extra vertebrae the ability to swivel your neck without cutting the blood off to the brain Pupils opening like big black coins at dusk and  especially  the far vision  the ability to see into the distant future  I’m not a hunter that’s altogether too hearty too strenuous too bloodthirsty  but low-light hunting  now that has appeal  suggests less loss of life less post-sport effort nothing to crush or skin  Like a lentil casserole you could leave on a low light  if you’ve cooked on gas you’ll know what I mean  something you could slow-cook  do no harm


Lizz Murphy



Author's note: ‘Noctua’ (Latin: Owl) is the beginning of what I hope will be a series on lost or lesser known constellations. It is a continuation of my writing/art & text work created during the ongoing Postcards from the Sky Living Studio at Belconnen Arts Centre, Canberra.