Penelope Layland: 2 Poems


It became a trip marker in the crackle of cane fields,
a sign that the beach was not far now.
Buildings of dusty, unchanging carob,
low-slung and windowless,
wind turbines blurring,
a fraying ensign knotted by wind.
All those years of passing by, never any sign of life.

We imagined a dark bunker,
its sacks of dried legumes,
tinned tuna, treacle,
jerrycans of kero and diesel,
ampules of penicillin,
and for later, seed packets, de-sal rigs,
ammo and oiled rifles
mummified in canvas shrouds.

Our girls have grown, have their own holiday plans.
Last summer we drove west, alone,
across the black-soil plains in locust season,
arriving with an almost clean windscreen.

An actuary would say my chances are good
of outliving the last koala.

Our daughters have no children.


Drowned town

In the sixth year of dry
the dam shrank from its margins
towards the wall,
became a denser, flocculant green.
Silt banks drifted,
the wind rubbed free outlines
of pitted kerbing, rubbled roads,
brick stumps that once propped
a hardwood floor,
a rack of ginger beer bottles
glinting in sudden air.
Other etchings emerged from the slub:
a baby blanket, folded
into dissolving tissue,
a tannined teapot,
scattered like a hatched egg,
a sludge of books with blurred corners,
a doll’s head, with a crest
of sulphur yellow,
headstones, tilting and slurried,
and a small bird perched on a gable
with a twig snagged in its beak.


Photo courtesy of That Poetry Thing That Is On At Smith’s Every Monday

Penelope Layland is a Canberra poet and former journalist, speechwriter and communications professional. Her most recent book, Things I’ve thought to tell you since I saw you last (Recent Work Press) was shortlisted for the Kenneth Slessor Prize in the 2019 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards. It is available from


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