Sunday, February 19, 2012

Tuesday Poem - Outback by Kerry Popplewell


3.00 am Copley, South Australia

A single aeroplane

throbs through silence.

Dogs converse,

their morse erratic.

Awake in our tent

we try to translate

their talk of distance;

their talk of cold.


Salt bush. Blue bush. Blue Smoke.

Roads straight as a perspective line.

Subdued by space

we expected silence,

not knowing how various

the voices of the wind can be

when it goes scouring

rock face and ridge.

It spoke a language

we could not decipher –

a hoarse ululation

from another time.


A broken windmill by a disused well,

rail sleepers rotting, stockyard posts askew.

These aren’t the kind of records this land keeps.

It takes a longer view.

Roadhouse at Ebenezer

An Anangu man points to a map

showing tribal areas. This took six years,

he says, to make. When it was completed,

many complained that their tribe wasn’t on it.

Roast lamb and beer in the bar;

all night, the generator’s rumble.

Behind the campsite hedge,

horses snort and shake

in early sun. On each fencepost,

a magpie provides national coverage.

Coober Pedy

Consider the opal tailings:

those small, most perfect cones.

They glow silver at dusk –

a spent moonscape mirage;

at midday, a set

made to film Desolation.

People live below ground

to escape from the sky.

The sky knows no limit.

The sun gives no quarter.

Graveyard, Alice Springs

Hot gravel underfoot. Grit in the eyes.

A few graves of the famous – then the rest.

Even in death, distinctions:

the Afghan camelmen, all facing Mecca.

Far out where faint tracks end

their testy camels roam and multiply.

This is a poem that really intrigued me because it is a New Zealander engaging with the Australian outback – and all that that entails.

It is in Kerry's book Leaving The Tableland published by Steele Roberts.


  1. Awesome choice.

  2. Lovely to see this poem of Kerry's here.

  3. Hmm, you get a real sense of the struggle with the land with Kerry's poems. They're very moving and spare. I was just recently reading about Coober and the opal industry there - funny that it should turn up in poetry. Thanks, Jennifer!

  4. This is wonderful - I love the spaces in the poem which hang between lines and yawn between couplets - like the land in its immensity around Kerry as she wrote. Kerry's poetry is so good. I like what you say, Elizabeth, about how she writes of 'the struggle with the land'. I must buy her book.

  5. Thanks Jennifer - Kerry's poetry is so evocative of time, age, space, identity...

  6. I haven't read the book, but this makes me want to add it to my list.