Poetry | Dog walking in the desert

            Mparntwe | Alice Springs claypans


Each time you walk

take a bag for the rubbish,

for the weeds.


Stride out

then confuse the dog as you

stop over and over,

like you are picking at treasure.


You dig with the heel of your boot

at the sea of three-corner-jack prickles

and remind yourself next time

to bring gloves.


Each walk, you gather up small parts

of the broken car

dumped at the water’s edge,

its innards strewn across the sand.


You look for debris

that will fit in the bag.


Today it’s a wing mirror

half hidden by red dirt,

like it has flown

to escape the wreckage,

and fallen.


You pick at its pieces of black plastic,

its shattered parts

spread here and there,

like toxic feathers.


Up the track, the dog is waiting.

She stands in the shade of an ancient corkwood,

pale-yellow flowers unfurling

against spiky leaves,

the whole tree

growing lighter

in the waking dawn.


She is looking back at you,

and you imagine

she has learnt to remind you

to look up from

the broken bottles,

and the next pile of cans


to look at the country –

to the orange hills

and the bright

wide sky


reflecting in

pools of glowing water.








Mparntwe is the Arrernte name for Alice Springs, a remote town in the centre of Australia. The Arrernte are the Aboriginal traditional owners of Mparntwe. The claypans are a series of natural ponds located outside the town. These only fill after rain. The area is of profound importance to local Arrernte people. The landscape has been altered since colonisation with the introduction of foreign plants and animals. It is also used as a recreation area with rubbish left and the occasional stolen car abandon there. It is a beautiful and fragile environment.

Leni Shilton

Leni Shilton is a poet and educator. She grew up in Papua New Guinea and Melbourne, and lives in Mparntwe | Alice Springs. She has written two verse novels: Malcolm (2019 UWAP) and Walking with camels – the story of Bertha Strehlow (2018 UWAP), the winner of the 2020 Chief Ministers Fiction Book Award. Her writing regularly appears in anthologies and journals including APJ, Cordite, Plumwood Mountain and Best of Australian Poetry 2022. Leni won the 2022 Inaugural Born Writers Award for her poetry collection Voices.

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