Quaking Aspens, Utah

Penelope Layland


Whispers lap, layered as a waterfall

even in breeze so low it can scarcely be called so,

rising to ring out in higher winds like

the clash of minted coins falling.


We have come to lie at feet that are not feet

any more than branches are limbs

—but we can only call things by words we know,

and what grows below the skin of earth

is below our thinking,

as what goes on inside our lying skin

is below an aspen’s thinking, I think.


The whispers we have come to hear

say nothing— are just fancies, like those breakers

that crash from an empty conch.

The aspen’s whispers are simply, strictly,

struck by the wind’s thumb that is not a thumb

—and say nothing.


What sense is spoken is spoken underground—

along shallow, sunless roots that reach and knit

and where coded messages run—

the monologue of a monstrous clone

communing with its forty thousand selves,

each saying what is already known,

laid down in its horny fossil of memory


—how to embrace stasis before snow

then how to wake again— and speaking

as a heart speaks with a head on matters more immediate:

where to sucker next; what ageing self to sacrifice;

where pine and goat and fire have encroached;

on which hillside sun will shine.



Penelope Layland’s most recent book, Things I’ve thought to tell you since I saw you last (Recent Work Press 2018) won an ACT Writing and Publishing Award and was shortlisted for both the Kenneth Slessor Prize in the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, and the ACT Book of the Year.

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