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Robert McLean
New Zealand

Moka's Utu - Penny Howard
Robert McLean was born at Bethany in Christchurch, New Zealand in 1974.
He graduated from the University of Canterbury in 2004 with an MA in political science and art theory, returning to complete an MFA in creative writing in 2008. His poems, short-fictions, translations and reviews have been published in a variety of print and electronic periodicals and anthologies, both locally and overseas.  The most recent of his three collections of poetry is Goat Songs (Kilmog Press 2011).


With raw flesh I feed the eagle
For the last time; he shall taste my blood.
W.H. AUDEN (trans.), Hjalmar’s Death-Song

My prison cell
was filled with love
I could not feel
and yet spoke of

and understood
(within my mind)
as best I could –
His darkness shined

into my fear
where I found Christ,
our swastika
His shattered cross.

proved not enough
to satisfy
my lust for life:

a fiancé
helped. Some inmates 
would call on me. 
I smoked. Most nights

I’d write letters
or papers. At
times I prayed. Worse
was to come, that

much I knew for
certain. Yes: in
the end, horror
justified sin –

His lies caught-up
with me. Alone,
I drained the cup:
His darkness shone,

and Germany
was cold as death
in winter. I
stole my last breath

in Flossenbürg,
whose woods conceal 
a bashful God
and Christmas trees.

For Kate

All of my horses are called Athena,
except for Sandy:
she’s small
and made from plastic,
except for one of her legs,
which is a wooden leg.
I don’t like her
like I like the others. 
The rest are made from fuzzy felt,
and they’re the ones I take to bed.
I cuddle them
before I fall 
to sleep.

I love my little horses.
When they get sick,
I give them special horse medicine,
five lots of medicine,
which makes them feel better,
like magic does for me
when I’m feeling yucky –
my mummy knows magic.

I take my horses
when I go
to the doctor,
the fuzzy felt ones,
not Sandy,
I don’t like her –
I go with Mummy
on the bus,
and I can see other buses
and people
from our bus,

but it’s not a magic bus,
which makes me feel really sad.


Angels cannot swim –
if anything at all,
perhaps they fly,
but I doubt that, too:
I think that they remain
unmoved, aloof,
servile and made-believed –

I am, like you, composed
of dust and water;
I am a recouped star; they,
of light and air; or pure thought.

They stand
still, and still statuesque
as buildings fall
and bodies burn
behind them,
staring into the distance,
furthering it
as water rises,
swirling around us,
getting deeper,
and at last
I see angels,


The grey sky is shuttered, grasping for light
in a gauze of shadows. Who still believes
in the absence of us? The silence of night

speaks nothing to a crying child. His kite
is snagged in a tree. A wind shakes the leaves.
The grey sky is shuttered. Grasping for light,

even the partial moon seems to be bright.
Stars flicker like brushed embers. All this lives
in the absence of us. The silence of night

listens to our laughter. Passing clouds delight
in acts of love and sex no one forgives.    
The grey sky is shuttered. Grasping for light,

a strangled sun splutters and dies. What might
save us now? Our children sleep. Darkness thrives 
in the absence of us. The silence of night

speaks for itself. Its sleeping will invite
the projection of bodies. An adult perceives
the grey sky is shuttered, grasping for light.
In the absence of us? The silence of night.


I walked uphill for half a mile
to where I’d find the riverbed.
It made no sense. For this she bled
to quicken life and life’s denial.

My eyes familiarised the dark.
I looked for a secluded place
to dig. I cried. And hid my face.
I looked. It wasn’t easy work.

My shovel rendered dirt. A hole 
was turned for spoils of love. My stomach
turned. My back began to ache.
I buried blood without a soul.

That’s all she was – but not for us.
I sat beside a tree as dusk
leeched into yesterday. A husk
drained of the womb’s detritus.

I cried and watched the new moon rise
behind the trees. It made no sense
to me at all. Far in the distance,
the farmhouse burned against my eyes.

Light shone. I walked to it. The earth
was spinning. In our living room,
a cold wind whistled down the flume.
Our shadows flickered in the hearth.