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Claire Mabey
New Zealand

Four Steps To Standing on a Horse - Penny Howard - 2014
Claire Mabey works on festivals in New Zealand and in between likes to travel to other festivals where it's wonderful just to enjoy the work. She loves Wellington but could happily live in Greece too.


in which friends and strangers are eaten alive by all-seeing, all-knowing gods of DNA

We were still as corpses - in the crevices
dust laden, still, dry and hollow as old bones,
delicate as trinkets in an ancient jewelry box -

when carbon dioxide and lactic acid entered suddenly with the scent of wild thyme already flavouring their juices, infusing among freckles
and hairs and moles and scars.

Air shifts in quiet currents as two bodies creep along the stone flags,
then two more.
Their noise of zips, kitchen exploration, and unfolding deckchairs is so distant as to be like a dream.

Hollow as we were,
we slept on, comfortable in half-life;
the Aegean still chilled and slow-moving as comets to the puny human eye.

Anxiety leaks from the brunette;
she flits from kitchen to bedroom to lounge,
fairly darts, generating acid, stirring concern.

The tall one, with belly akimbo
is depleted, is dark-shadowed,
is knotted and creasing round the eyes, imploding and spreading simultaneously.

The small, hard one is squirming
from brain to balls
beneath fierce attempts at being ultimately casual.

The red one is amused;
she notices the boats made of bark and string,
the donkey at the end of the road with bloody mites pricking his long snout.

Between them they bring - in plastic ziplock bags - tea tree oil, dimp, 5 tubes of sun block of factors 20, 30 and 75, hydrocortisone, antiprutirics, Lamisil, beeswax chap sticks, Nurofen, Panadol, Loratidine, dextrose, levulose, phosphoric acid, and nail lacquer (clear).

The tall one and the red one awake quietly and
leave early through mesh shutters, only to return hours later a-fizz from the diving competitions and delving into their emotional absences, their dry spells,
with salt and icecream emulsified round mouths and in eyebrows;

the sweet sourness is delectable.
It stirs the thorax soft as a breath,
our stone hollows comfortable as tombs, are exquisitely polluted.

The brunette has been left alone -
fearful of cold, of water, of depth,
she’s furiously projecting her sense of adventure online.

The red one runs;
the butterflies and grasshoppers scatter, erratic, out of the flowering thyme
and the dead, pale gorse thorns impale her shoes through to her toes.

She feels like St Francis but she’s just adidas lycra on asics feet,
barely breaking ground,
shuffling stone into dust and disturbing the ancients – the complex arrangements of Antennae, Anterior wing, Posterior wing, Compound eye,
Maxilla, Labrum, Tympanic membrane, and the world as large as space;

lactic acid streamed off her like steam off a stew,

her smug struts to the kitchen for ‘yet more of the bottled cold water’
send the scent of her athletic achievements gamboling out in vitriolic waves
to the crevices of our observations …

A jolt! A wave of her hits and we thousand awake,
wings shuddering in ecstasy, a thousand jewels a-flicker, the rush
of CO2 shoots through and there’s a gnashing sucking thirst.

We emerge and diffuse
from ceiling corner to table dent
low to the ground by the legs, the ankles.

Our collective is a many-studded net -
a constellation of acute biochemical reactions;
we are one, we see all, we hear all.

The initial pierce;
the first impalement;
is rebirth.

Cloying with a sting of sunblock
the abdomen swells
the minds commune – we hear all:

‘A litany of errors’ the red one said to the tall one
earlier in the day
when they were walking alone to the clear Aegean
to cleanse themselves of hours at screens;

‘One writes about food but can’t eat
the other is so hungry he could eat us all in our sleep’.
They laughed and found the water clearer than real life.

Daily ice creams made their blood sticky and 13 years of colluding coursed through their veins
so comfortable closeness deafened and caused an almighty
thud through our crackling skeletons with every thump of their hearts
as we suckled of them.

The ‘others’ (for this is how they felt
awkwardly enacting the new couple on the fringes
of a universe of old friends mercilessly close, hideously glib),

they petted in the dark
on adjacent single beds
a perfect corner of fleshly desire;

they tasted of tamarind, vinegar
and anti-nausea for gluten intolerance, loratidine for hayfever,
of imbalance, uncertainty and fatigue.

The welts of our feastings would subside
but their own mindless mauling scratches out cell after cell
like a vicious digger ripping through earth.

The mornings continue two-tiered:
stifled in heat trapped from fear of open windows
that might let us in, they emerge in pairs;

the tall and the red arise to alarms
to screens, swiping, downloading and tapping first,
then to the crowing, buzzing, industrious island morning;

the Others wake slowly, uncertainly
in unease and discomfort
bad backs, bites and parasites.

The mesh screens buckling against the warm glass door
is hung with bodies smashed by bloated sweaty hands
their efforts earnest, wild, and triumphant at every mangled piece -

carbon dioxide explodes with every fell swoop and slap
so their excitable killings fuel a frenzy in us
as we watch and grow stronger with every minute of their intrusion,

for we revel in their kind aversion, and their adorable confusions,
their loneliness and antihistamines -
the more bodies fall the stronger our conscious union collects.

Blood and skin have scabbed on the pale, freckled calves
the crusts gets yanked by towels, lycra, and cotton but the
80-year-old Greek sings as he walks past them, brisk as a young god,
a face full of smiles.

The ouzo they drink comes in hand-painted bottles
with killer whales and they declare a spirit guide is at work
bringing them this dream of fried cheese, a marina and all the cats in Greece.

Our bodies are smudges, stains and blasted particles on the white walls
of the bedrooms,
those sweaty havens where they dream and struggle.

Was it all a dream? Those halcyon days of feasting on the blood of half-youth
on the haywire scramblings of bodies
flitting wayward, laughing like fiends and so afraid of moving on

across the sea so dead. When we were born it was a whirlpool of life,
so many whale backs breaching we could fly and take a sup every second
of every shining day.

These four see clear water and screech when they’re nibbled by a singular shoal, exclaim when Marlboro packets wriggle between their wandering toes like hellish shells.

It’s not us they’re trying to eradicate
it’s uncertainty, it’s absence, it’s the diabolical dilemma of the
freedom they’re too uncomfortably nomadic and wavering to acknowledge:

give them a welt and they’ll dig for a ragged wound,
give them an island and they’ll point out the bats as though
they’re for decoration, like fairies,

give them the Aegean and they’ll be desperate for transformation -
to grow gills, submerge and never return,
salt in her eyelashes, an unbearable thirst.

Remember Alexander? Nobody like Alexander
the Great, that fruit, a potion of DNA that floats in us still.
Was it all a dream?

The red one plays Joni Mitchell and the tall one plays Brel,
they’re dreaming, they’re missing the point
they’re missing people, missing imaginary pirates

swashbuckling daily, the red one goes alone to the sea and looks into it;
the salt stings but it’s worth it for the infinity
and we hear her and jab fondly, crooning in her ear as she sleeps,

her swift and powerful swipes are ill aimed even near the end.
She dabs at the carcasses smeared into the whitewash like she’s restoring the Sistine, accompanied by resounding concern about the future – ‘no idea’ says the brunette.

They leave one afternoon in the high sun, hot and determined -
in love and as at war as a family.

And we float up to the cool walls to replicate, to digest, to dream,
perhaps never to wake – for what will be the next intrusion –
without such beautiful, passionate murder.

And yet. when their cells are disseminated among dirt and plastic and sticky bullets of exhaust,
we’ll be flying among stars and other such constant things
that grow with the entropy of age – we’ll be among the black and the empty and the forever.