Every instant, I just miss. The one who left the sachet twist at my café table and whose body heat remains in my seat. The one who stood, just here, smoking a still-vivid cigarette. The one who palped this pomegranate with five fingertips but replaced it in the ruddy pile, or left trace Chanel in this lift, like a clue, or last returned this library book, read or unread.

My mother frets at names mislaid: second cousins, book-club titles, the Minister for This or That. She is brightened when I  remind that we are evolved for hearth-groups, not the metropolis—for acquaintances numbering fewer than a hundred, even fewer of them dear, a handful of books, to be read and re-read. Yet in my heart I am enraptured by the never met, the name never-shaped in my mouth, the heat in the seat, the book maybe read, and here on the ground, deposited an instant ago, a fragile cylinder of ash the size of a stranger’s drawn breath.

Penelope Layland


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

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