Satellite image of former Manus Island detention centre

MANUS ISLAND

* On May 23, 2019, Aljazeera reported that ten asylum seekers detained on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island by the Australian government had attempted suicide following the May 18 re-election of the conservative Liberal-National coalition led by Scott Morrison. Since this poem was written, that number has increased: On June 3, the Guardian Australia reported that there had been 26 instances of self-harm or attempted suicide on Manus since the election. At the time, approximately 500 refugees were held at the Manus Island detention centre and approximately 350 on the neighbouring island Nauru (Spinoff, May 20).

It’s an expansive room
but cold. On the low
vinyl couches, my family hides
blue hands between their thighs.
I would say we are in a museum wing,
or some kind of movie-fantasy chalet, waiting
for a villain to arrive on the ski field.
Then the screen doors slide—

my red-headed aunt
pulls a cord like she’s drawing blinds.
Outside, there’s a yard. Blue
gum tree; four chained dogs bark.
My uncle braces leather and brass
binoculars to his breast, and we watch
where he watches. On the dry grass
a visitor pauses, lurched

forward on her knuckles like a tiny ape
with folded skin flaps. Like a tiny bat.
She looks at us. Cooper says, It is a bat.
My uncle crosses the lawn with hands
the size of pool nets, hides
the visitor in his fist. It’s a Miranda bat.
My mother runs to unlatch the windows,
free the exits—We don’t want her feeling constricted.

But we would like her to stop wriggling.
I press Miranda to my shoulder like a bat
about to burp. I consider her ears,
which are whorls within whorls.
Running lines of cartilage crest and fall,
primed for darkness, charcoal brushed with brawn
—and all over, in-between whorls,
the hairs of a night-time plant. All the better to hold

the echo, all the better to catch the specific wail
of her own bat pup in a crèche of thousands.
Listening now, I only hear the hush
of a big hand held up: Be quiet.
After last week’s election, ten men tried
to kill themselves on Manus Island. The sound
of waiting three more years to be decided
still not a refugee—is that silence?

If the Miranda bat is crying, it is at a frequency
that doesn’t exist for me, just as she can’t see
my frown. I’m frowning, wondering,
could a person eat that ear? A suck of its meat
might cure a swimmer’s canal, restore
lost cochlear hairs. Eat the enemy’s head and swallow
their pride. Acting on the eaten’s behalf.
I say aloud, I’m thinking in dream time.

So I lift the bat and test her against the light.
Her isosceles face is fluffed fat, but her body’s as thin
as a mouse. Beyond her, my uncle climbs
a rope to the height of the gum tree. My baby sister
in her red romper follows him, fist over fist.
My family sits in the grass, looking bored
and sometimes cheering: Find the colony!
Where there’s a Miranda, there are vampires.

Now words are traveling revised, pilfered
parallel to life, traced then copied free hand,
scanned from a fax, so forth, built upon.
Frottage as blue print as bricolage for sleep.
I call my dream back to me. In echoes,
I’ve charted Australia—where my uncle
comes from, the dogs, the thirsting gum.
Screen door the rabbit-proof aisle, lining

captives in the sun. I must be about
to wake up. But the bat. Miranda—
watcher of ships and high water.
She frightens right out of my arms
and flies. O squeak of freedom. A sound
two hundred thousand hertz too high.
The sound of flight, but equally, the echoing song
of the colony—Miranda, it’s time to come home.

There are still five hundred people
detained on Manus Island.
And there’s a town in New South Wales
named Miranda, two thousand miles south
of Manus Island. As the bat flies.
I look down to a red scratch
on my bare thigh, my bad leg
on the right. The doctor said.
Don’t ever let it get infected.

 

 

Evangeline Riddiford Graham is an artist and writer from Whakatū Nelson. She is the author of the poetry chapbooks La belle dame avec les mains vertes (Compound Press, 2019), and Ginesthoi (hard press, 2017). Her writing has been published in journals including Minarets, Sport, un magazine, and takahē. Evangeline's recent exhibitions include solo shows La belle dame avec les mains vertes (Rm Gallery, 2018) and Look Out, Fred! (Enjoy Public Art Gallery, 2017); her recent group exhibitions include Wax Tablet (Te Tuhi, 2019). She currently lives in New York City, where she is pursuing an MFA at The New School.