Port Arthur, Van Diemen’s Land, 1840
He has struggled through the surf of mist,
Heard the wind trample the hills,
The gullies drum like tambourines,
Felt the cold, companionable earth beneath his feet
And smelt, through the leaves of the eucalypts,
The brief, disorientating drug of freedom.
But, now, in the damp, stone walled darkness,
Only his halting breath and the snap of his chains
Break the silence.
He smells his sweat,
Feels its needles prick his skin
And the walls, rough as sandpaper, against his back.
Soon, dawn will smear the outside world with red.
He will hear the prisoners’ taunts as he is marched out,
The official condemnation,
The sharp, in drawn breath of the watchers,
Feet shuffled in anticipation,
Then, the hiss of the lash as it searches for his flesh.