4 Poems by Jane Frank


the outlook: much as it has always been 

the Point Vernon rocks stretched to the horizon 

the Scarness jetty on seabird stilts 

its barnacled shins bare in an ebbing tide

the ocean’s broderie anglaise edge 

the dogs chasing sticks 

the curving cotton trees stippled with yellow flowers 

the sand wet from a wolf moon tide 

a mushroom rainstorm out at sea —

onyx on aqua — 

but here: still golden 

the storm will reach us soon 

in the paper a story of the sweet relief 

of rain that kills 

tens of thousands of rotting fish 

washed up on the Macleay River banks 

choked by ash 

accounts of landslides and dislodged trees

debris of the extinguishing downpours 

a scientist explaining how burnt soil repels moisture 

even water-loving creatures not safe from pain 

and it’s not easy to recreate 

your own early calm 

if the woodblock resists the paint 

if the palette is leaden

I sit at Enzo’s drinking coffee 

watching pure colour swirl into the sea 

as the first drops fall 


No words form even when I stop, see star anise ripen, 

watch olives squatting plumply in vats, graduations 

of apples and melons. All a little tired. Like me. 

Yoghurt mango- or berry-striped, flowers of every colour – 

even green – endless aromas of herb and 40 kinds 

of organic pasta sauce. But none of these combinations 

make any sense to me today. I can’t imagine 

how the flavours could ever simmer, mix, and

reconvene on the comfort of a pale blue-striped plate. 

I buy soup, and tonic to go with gin, amble past a full 

aisle of lemons, limes, banks of lettuce, cauliflower – 

harmonies of infinite colours that must together 

make meaning. But outside, past where 

I pay, there is the umbrousness of early dark – palm trees 

pared down under street lamps – people carrying their 

boxes of inspiration, homogenising as I watch into a 

sweeping dark wave of words, to night consuming day.


I am raking forests of coral to cleave a large square of gritty sand. 

It will be lined with walls of limpet shells: a zoo geometry. 

Bivalve brumbies buck until their hinges break. 

Cuttlefish crocodiles laze in lambent tanks, 

the wetness a fast evaporating magic. 

A cemetery of calcium crunch stretching out 

to wide jaws of coffee rock bookending the bay: my empire. 

Sky almost not blue – watchit. Wide. 

At the horizon, smalt stripes lustrous beyond shallow turquoise. 

Summer whiting bite on invisible lines (I think I can hear them), 

tinnies glinting out deep. 

A bucket, a shoreline, a zoo. 

Shells glint, extravagant in sarsaparilla pools, 

seaside snail cities prone to tsunami. 

Wrack, riprap, the spiral handwriting of gastropods; 

left or right, like us. My great aunt told me about that. 

I don’t collect any with flaws that time has captured 

and gnawed on, only pristine specimens. 

We are leaving soon and I know the tide will lap higher,

that the zoo created in a day will return to the sea. 

The shell animals are corralled, but will break free –

swim clear of fences, forests. 

The cowrie elephant

I take with me. 


A desert where it never rains, far from any flood plain

so words and imaginings went there to die, not expecting

a rebirth after two millennia. From the buried monasteries

and mosques, the necropolis for sacred ibis and baboon

birds, papyrus spluttered from tightly packed beds once

unzipped, mathematical equations serried with sweet

recipes, grocery lists, invitations to dinner, spells like the

one that would make a man leave her and love you for

good, mummy middens with their cartonnage of Sappho

fragments and classic texts, caches of Christian doctrines,

the anaerobic letters of abandon that weren’t ever meant

to be found. Had been thrown in the trash. Lost in landfill.

In the woodcut I saw online, there are tower ruins and a

simple sweep of dunes. Date palms. A monumental stone

gate. Like looking out a window:

                                                     when I open mine, pages

flap and threaten to peel from their suburban dossier. A

subterranean headache today: layers of me compressed

beneath timetables and spreadsheets, unanswered texts,

vet bills, scribbled notes on the backs of used envelopes

about the way the butcherbirds in my garden fly, books of

Barcelona walks and best baby names, curling photographs

of relatives I never met, printouts about the potential adverse

effects of dope on the teenage brain. The catacombs of half-

written poems: a sheaf of first lines that I must once have

thought had potential.

About the contributor

Jane Frank’s poems have appeared in Hecate, Verity La, Cicerone Journal, Meniscus, Grieve vol 7 (Hunter Writers Centre 2019) and the Heroines anthology (Neo Perennial Press 2019) and are forthcoming in Not Very Quiet, Stylus Lit and Antipodes. She was joint winner of the Queensland Poetry Festival Philip Bacon Ekphrasis Award in 2019, and teaches in creative industries, writing and literary studies at Griffith University.

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