Poetry | Penstock Lagoon

February 2022


We wake by still water

to what sounds like a large pearl

dropped from a great height,

it breaks the surface tension

with a resonant nasal tock

more than a splash.


A lake is an inland expanse of standing water.

This one is nine hundred and sixty-three metres

above sea level. It is a metre deep and sheltered

on three sides, from a distance at least,

by what has come to be known as Wilderness.


Up here, in the tent at night

by an effort of will, the world’s troubles

shrink from the mind’s large screen

to something smaller, that glows dimly

in the dark as I sleep: for the moment

it features a satellite image of Russian troops –

over one-hundred thousand –

gathering on the border of Ukraine.

Snow settles more heavily

where the razed Yelnya forest

has made way for lines of trucks, artillery, tanks.

The impression from space is monochrome.


At 6 am the rising sun

sets the tent’s orange interior ablaze.


Black swans are waking

in the distance with dented bugle calls.

Still, from time to time,

the pearl falls and tocks

and still the small screen flickers:

young men, boys, in great-coats, cold-faced

to the camera in freezing trenches.

I remind myself that this is not 1914.

I think of the rubble of Homs,

and wonder at the satisfaction victory brings.


It is not a falling pearl but a musk duck.

No-one else – least of all the morning –

is startled by the oddity:

the black galleon of its profile,

the grotesque lobe beneath its bill,

the pure, surreal music of its one brief note,

the spirals of waterdrops from wingbeats.


Nearly two and a half thousand years ago

Thucydides wrote: It is a common mistake

in going to war to begin at the wrong end,

to act first and wait for disaster to discuss the matter.


Despite the vagaries of good and evil

the imagination insists on connections –

with the Ukrainian soldiers, for example,

the Russian soldiers, the Ukrainian people.


Mirror-like, on its ancient glacial plateau,

the lake is non-partisan in its view of civilisations.


Mayflies are hatching on its surface for their single day of life.


Sarah Day

Sarah Day’s latest books, Tempo and Towards Light (Puncher & Wattmann, 2015, 2018), were shortlisted for the Prime Minister’s and Tasmanian Premier’s Literary Awards.

More by Sarah Day ›

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