Serie Barford


Louis and Modestine the Donkey

For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move. — Robert Louis Stevenson, Travels with a Donkey

I Modestine’s Home

Louis breached Le Monastier
a town nestled near the Loire
famed for its drunkenness
dissension and lace making

in a century which blamed the moon
for inclement weather and hysteria

and regarded the poles as
icy extremities to be explored
and pressed upon lightly

if at all

like snippets of lace with fronds
as fragile as the necks, wrists
and clavicles they rested on

II Securing Modestine

Louis wrangled with Father Adam
an old man touched by the moon
(or so the town said)

over a donkey described as
a she-ass not much bigger than a dog
with a determined underjaw

a crowd gathered to watch
as Modestine shook off children
gingerly placed on her back
to prove a docile nature

Louis closed the deal at
65 francs and a glass of brandy
sighed and coughed a little

both man and donkey
exhausted by the day

III Leading Modestine Away

Father Adam confessed
to brutalizing Modestine
but wept as she trotted away

insisting he’d fed her white bread
and eaten the coarse loaves himself

Louis didn’t believe him
but noted a genuine tear
on Father Adam’s grimy cheek
was drawn to earth by the gravity
of Modestine’s departure



Serie (Cherie) Barford was born in New Zealand and considers herself a Pasifika woman of mixed heritage. Her work can be found in Whetu Moana, Niu Voices, Poetry NZ, Tinfish 16/Trout 13, Blackmail Press and Best NZ Poems 2006. Forthcoming work in New Writings from the South Pacific (University of Canberra). Of the present poem, Serie states: “I found Travels with a Donkey in a second hand bookshop. Robert Louis Stevenson has always intrigued me and I have a soft spot for the humble donkey. In addition, Mt Vaea, Stevenson’s burial place, is close to where my family now live in Samoa, so he is a constant presence in our lives. I was charmed by the book and moved to write these poems.”