Academic journal article Hecate

Patchwork

Academic journal article Hecate

Patchwork

Article excerpt

These poems that form part of the sequence The Female Factory focus on Jane Franklin's attempts to alter the prison system for female convicts. She was influenced in her thinking by Elizabeth Fry, an English woman who fought for prison reform in England and Australia. Jane's views were contradictory, however. She wanted to `improve' the women but her views on class and punishment were fixedly Victorian.

In the third poem, Jane refers to an incident when she and several other women visited the female prisoners with the Colonial Chaplain, Mr Bedford. The prisoners, known as the `Flash Mob,' had very little respect for the chaplain, knowing him to be a drinker. With one accord, they turned and bared their bottoms to him. The ladies present laughed.

I

Elizabeth plies them with thread

and bags of patches.

In bright and motley colours:

faded, worn out cottons,

plush velvets their naps edging sideways,

dry calico, iridescent flash of silk,

even old flour bags their edges unthreading in brown skeins.

On the long voyage out, the women piece and patch.

Fingers, so used to the toil of fields,

wash-troughs, sculleries

(nails broken to the quick)

become young again.

Each stitch in the fabric like a small kiss,

or a mouthful of air to the lungs;

a pocketful of freedom.

The flashing needle catches all the broken threads of the past:

still-born baby, a child's rattling cough,

green hills left behind for the city,

the husband's last job,

endless drink,

theft of potatoes or coats.

Stitching is a chance to dream:

a new land bringing new life.

Some must carry secrets in their bellies

as well as their hearts,

so the waves bear the ship,

the ship bears the women,

and the women -- they bare their souls

only to the quilt in their hands.

I wonder, when she mends her new mistress's garments

will she remember the lithe stitches of the quilt,

colours that rioted like the sunset on the sea,

seams that gathered together the patches:

small pockets of love and hope. …

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