"Death is harder and stranger when there is beauty like this": Three Poems by Jane Frank

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"Death is harder and stranger when there is beauty like this": Three Poems by Jane Frank

Poetry by Jane Frank

This feature appears in the Asia Pacific Writers & Translators x Bengaluru Review Special Issue: Step Outside the Frame, September 2020.

Never turn your back on the sea

Walk a coastal track. Wind in hair: mind medicine. Top up on natural forces. Sapphire space. Deep froth healing. Green-glaze prescription. Let go. Rise and fall until I’m tidal. Leave over-thought ideas back at the car. Let the coast in. Wild. Wash. Lasso a big blue lonely world.

A library of sunrise. Framing of gold beams on the cliff side. Dreamlike effect. Bibliotherapist. Pages of cloud wisp. Silver horizon. Aha moment hard to beat. Mania where the glitz takes over.

Rusted wreck. Red-purples. Sea yellows. Barnacle baubles on the jetty’s legs. Pools trap stones. Hurts are hidden. Almost forgotten. Small puddles of remembering. Ugly words. Creatures that bite: unexpected havoc.

Heal skin with salt. And the heart? Layers of tenderness, like crystal. Seaweed clings to sand. Holds fast. Green, red, brown fronds wound together in wavelengths of sunshine. Sea bares its soul in light aqua. Where’s your stamina? Keep on going. Up this rise. Over smooth rock with no footholds. Not easy to give up on desire. The heat. The heat. Be brave.

Waves. Imagination dying. Complete stillness after the wake. You once lived like that fish. That flutter of scales. You made marks on this place. So you stay here. I could argue that you have never left because you were. Here. Time can’t expel you. A kind of everlastingness. Death is harder and stranger when there is beauty like this.

Look down: eyes open. Bead weed on wet rocks. Pigface smiling pink. Prickly saltwort pushing through pebbles. Sea lavender with a touch of tan. Tiny cabbage leaves curling. Grainy sand. Mustard not white. Still time to be silk. Stones not all one colour. No presumption or sweeping statements about the exactness of the colour green. There are a million blues. And see how the bay is full of curves? Waves travel in odd numbers. The horizon is far from straight.

Do I know the ocean? What is meaningful? Tightly packed jewel anemones. Dense blooms of psychedelic jellyfish. Dancing octopi. I can’t see them but I know they’re there. Belief is essential. I am a pagan like all living things. Dark shadows: an indigo leveller. At its mercy always. Pessimist or optimist? Water covers 71 percent of the surface. Never turn your back on the sea.


Crimson Parakeets

They hang upside down,
ignoring me apparently

but I can feel their colours
in the blossom pinned

to the lilly pilly hedge—
drunk colours.

It is a grey day and the world has
stopped turning.

My son hasn’t come home and I don’t
know where he is.

They are making so much noise
I can’t keep my thoughts in a line.

The birds turn and career into
one another.

They circle the tree.
They drink deep

from the bottlebrush flowers.
I need the fluorescence of parakeets

to guide me through this morning.
I listen in case their noise is a language

I can understand.
In case they are drinking in truth

or comfort
or nothing of the sort:

just making themselves crimson
against a slate sky.


17 Ways

Take one of his paintings— a favourite—from
the wall. Find a

brushstroke that’s out of place
or a colour that you didn’t expect.
Locate an

object channelling that colour in the room
around you. Pick it

up— vase, coaster, candle-
stick, plate— and let its heat warm you.
Ask the

item if it knows where he is? Open yourself
to listen, not just hear.
Follow the

When you reach the butcherbird’s nest,
call to

the bird. Can you hear it speak? Ask it
to reveal
its truth. It must be

when there’s blinding last
sunlight palm-striped. Watch a

black and white
feather float through this golden air, land
between your feet. Tie it

together with hibiscus
using string. There was always hibiscus.
Drink from

the whisky glass you
kept for his visits. Mantra
like, say his name

Don’t try and predict what will happen.
Watch the open field

in the painting
where the cattle graze against the
lavender hills. See the

sky is the same blood orange as the one
outside your window?
Note the

matching crescent moon.
Reach into the

painting and take
the letter from where it hangs on
the lowest bough, unfold it

to see
a familiar script with its wild hooks
and loops—
but a postmark unknown

Listen to him read


Brisbane poet Jane Frank’s latest chapbook is Wide River (Calanthe Press, 2020). Her work has also appeared recently in Not Very Quiet, Cicerone Journal, Blue Nib, Antipodes and the Grieve anthology (Hunter Writers Centre, 2020). Her unpublished manuscript Wolf Moon was shortlisted for the 2020 Arts Queensland Thomas Shapcott Poetry Prize and she was joint winner of the Queensland Poetry Festival Philip Bacon Ekphrasis Award in 2019.

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