Penelope Layland – The Great Rooted Bed

Profile Layland LEP&W ANZ May 2021

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Live Encounters Poetry & Writing May 2021
Special edition featuring poets from Australia & New Zealand.

Penelope Layland is a Canberra poet and former journalist and speechwriter. Her 2018 book Things I’ve thought to tell you since I saw you last (Recent Work Press) was shortlisted for the Kenneth Slessor Prize and the ACT Book of the Year, and was the poetry winner in the ACT Writing and Publishing Awards. Her most book, Nigh, was published by Recent Work Press in 2020.

The Great Rooted Bed

            (to Odysseus)

            I am fallow.

            In quietude.

            Lying low, as they say:
            taking required rest.

            Birds, long-legged,
            flew from here
            last autumn
            with weightless grace
            to warmth.
            The sallow sun now sails
            its lowest ellipse.

            It was winter when
            I wed, too:

            winter bride-bed,
            winter child-bed.

            Winter death-bed, too,
            I do not doubt,
            and all the frigid linen between.

            Do you hear me,
            my man
            of disappearance?


Romantic seeming—at first:
you ordered the making
of a nuptial bed
from a living tree.
Fork spread and well-mattressed
that we might couple, formally
without the physics of joinery,
the sound of joining,
risk of collapse.

The bed was wettish, always. Sappy.
No wicking of it away.
Pillows plumped with sweat of dreams
or flattened by exertions.


Was this always your way of escape,
your plan for going—
our bed being living, breeze-moved
but immovable,
sap still flowing, inexorable,
enfolding and carnivorous,
clutching till your return?

When I woke, wet petals had closed about me.


Oh, but remember
times beforetime—
before the bed, on riverbanks
or heels grounded, grinding on riverbeds
with gushings and soundings?
In audible tents and other visible places?

How is it now, that we have found
such rigidity,
such rootedness,
and in rootedness
such hardened pillows?


Besides, you are gone
so many years that wildings
and regrowth feather forth
from our mattress slats, grafted
with unimagined fruit— apricots,
figs even, pierced by wasp.
And moulds bloom wildly
and black on my bridal drapes.
Rot invades our stump.


Most nights I stretch here
slovenly, in brocade wrapped,
studded with mumbled,
tumbling crumbs and scraps.
Let me mouth and tongue
my smooth chocolates
in peace, beast—
at least we had no brat but one
and he too has run.
Suitors come—
I send them back without tasting
but they hang about like tom cats.
I can smell them in my sleep.

© Penelope Layland