Poetry by Jennifer Compton


The photographer’s shadow – Olive Cotton (1935)



The moment of taking

is the moment she takes.


He is laid out on the sand.

He basks in her shadow

under a monochrome sun.

The triangles of her elbows

are little apertures.

He almost clasps her breasts.

His upside-down glance

is telling.

He almost clasps his head.

He (almost) is an (almost)

headless torso.


Between the wars the shadow falls.

Falls the shadow, as it falls.


And then, the parade of young men,

in uniform, with their retinue.

A mother, perhaps a father, a sweetheart,

brothers and sisters, a stoic aunt.

For to have his picture taken

before he is shipped out to the war.

The studio is a clearing station.

(I am imagining this.)


Each young man

glimmering with prescience.

This one won’t come home,

laid out upon a foreign field.

(Or beach.)

This one will come home,

but not the same.



And then the long years of spring

in the forest. With the returned man.

And then another studio in the town

with her signature above the door.



Nothing I am imagining is as true as it was true.


Months I had spent, months, 

unravelling, as best I could

the stream of hopeful falsehood

that passed her lips.

I resorted to the garden.

‘If one grows,

if one seeds and tends and grows…’

(One says one when one

is dropping a hint.)

She had packets of seeds on her sill

but it was never quite time

to plant.

I became shrill.

‘If you eat then you grow.

(Or you kill.)

Everything you need to know

is in a seed.’

Then she boasted

of a garden she had inherited,

how the old girls were

plucking fruit

from her demesne.

Did I believe her?

Yes, I did

As she walked me to her new flat

I was hopeful, hopeful,

because a garden, a garden,

a garden is the very thing.

I stared at a meagre single plant

in a sandy wilderness of weeds.

I glanced up at the balcony to my left

at the green thumbs there 

triumphing almost

to the point of overload,

glanced down to her vaunted garden

and understood that she has always felt


Poetry by Jennifer Compton

Jennifer Compton lives in Melbourne and is a poet and playwright who also writes prose. Her recent work appears in Antipodes, Australian Poetry Journal, Cordite Poetry Review, Poetry New Zealand, Scum Mag, and The North. She has also had work published in The Best Australian Poems 2004–5, 2008, 2011–15 and 2017.
(Photo credit Nicholas Walton-Healey)

About the contributor

Related Articles

More Like This