Martha Landman

Find the Happy Trap

Listen to the turtle dove at sunrise. Buy new clothes,
the panacea for a girl of moderation.
A man on the tram will ask about your boots,
if they hurt. He’ll tell you about his steel caps.
Don’t take offence. Read Rimbaud, cast a stone
across the lake, look for mopane worms
where you hide from lightning under a mulberry bush.
Remember how your mother covered mirrors
during thunderstorms. Take her advice.

If you want happiness, don’t cling to cow dung.
Namibia is still a clean country, deserts,
sand dunes, camelthorn trees. The best path
is through the Okavango Delta, the bateleur eagle’s way.
Take two-way radios, water, fat-belly coffee cups.
All roads don’t lead to Rome.
Travel without a map, get lost,
find moss on footpaths.

Don’t list what makes you happy.
You’ll want a clean kitchen, tax deductions,
fountain pens, girlie notebooks, a man in steel caps.
You’ll look for your new slippers, find dust
under the bed. You’ll get on the wrong track,
meet that man again, he’ll take you for a ride.
Don’t dwell, don’t blame. It’s you
who listened to the turtle dove’s song.


On the Farm at Bela-Bela

They work in rhythm,
cast in a spell on a windless day
sing, then chat, then sing
in Tshivenda, a language
I heard in childhood
around cooking fires, children
enchanting us with the firestick dance,
their faces a shimmer of moon,
woodsmoke in our eyes and hair.

I’m a visitor now, watching from the veranda —
three women and a man
backs bent to the hot sun
hands in red fertile soil,
their sticks digging holes
for the beetroot they plant in stately rows.

I hear the timbre in their voices,
feel its vibration,
I mark this coordinate for life —
workers who own little,
no title deeds, no stakes
but they own this land
as bones own marrow.


Sunday School Camp at Thathe Vondo, the Holy Forest

What we gained was unity with trees.
We were the trees, birds, soil, we were
God in the breeze, in the cooking fires,
in the dust rising under our bare feet.
We were God in the humidity, clouds,
in every leaf, grass blade, every stone,
curious squirrels playing in the sand.

I can’t remember if he preached
brimstone the way they normally do.
We were purity, hardly on the edge
of puberty and already they toiled
hard to protect our innocence, keep us
out of evil’s grip, God and the devil
vying for our souls.

But he should’ve told us the devil
comes to you in small proportions,
a master at grooming — toe in the water,
then a foot, a leg, up to the hips
and over your head. You commit one sin,
don’t die and next time it’s easier.

What I don’t remember sits in the body —
heart-song, heart-shake, belly-laugh,
gut-sense, nose-sense, throat-thrill, toe-curl.
Tree burls create illusions in the forest.


Martha Landman writes in Adelaide, South Australia on Kaurna land. Her work appears in anthologies and journals in the UK, US, Australia and South Africa, the latest in Poetry Pacific, Antithesis and forthcoming in The High Window. Her chapbook, Between Us, was published by Ginninderra Press in 2019. She was shortlisted for Emerging Older Voices in Queensland in 2021. Her first single collection is forthcoming.