Night on Prison Island

Wallabies dream in a honeyed night
garden of crocus and sweet alyssum.

Do they see the sad souls of those
who never left this prison paradise?

Beneath a warder moon, gold and
watchful above the roofless beach-

rock walls, the ghosts rise in white,
traipse in single, silent file through

neglected olive groves at the rhythmic
bidding of the tides. Cows low to the

mournful stories of stars, needles
rasp as rough hands push thread to

sew sails, the white figures huddled
cross-legged now under Moreton Bay

figs until just before dawn. Little girls
in white lace frocks play solemn hop-

scotch on the beach near the head-
stones, supervised by waxbills and

curlews. In their visions, the wallabies
coax them to ride on their backs, keep

the ghost babies warm in their pouches
on icy winter nights, but their young

eyes don’t smile. They were left behind
on this island to the eternal gossip of

dugongs and bats, noisy schoolchildren
by day, the smell of shell burning to

make lime, of sugar boiling, parents’
broken goodbyes. Their only crime –

that they were St. Helena children.
The wallabies wake, at last, to the

honesty of the sun, the grass sweet and
cool in the long shadows of the ruins.

Jane Frank’s poems have most been recently published in Cicerone Journal, Not Very Quiet, The Ekphrastic Review and an anthology titled Pale Fire: New Writing on the Moon (The Frogmore Press, 2019). She teaches creative writing and cultural studies at Griffith University in southeast Queensland, Australia.

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