Cherie Barford


The Sabattier Effect

I’m oversaturated
exposed to light
to the point of transmutation

another year
another cyclone
my body’s lost definition

seeps into the tropical surrounds
of an island
shaped like a Dodo

I haven’t written for days

all the paper in the village
sweats with humidity
resists ink and lead
from hibiscus-coloured pens

sheaves stick together
like perspiring skin
folding onto itself
with clammy persistence

there are no mountains
to entice or capture clouds
straying over this coral atoll

it swelters and steams
collects cyclones in water tables
beneath its crust

I want to read about love
reconstruct glory and exaltation

but don’t be fooled
reciting love poems
restoring cathedrals

it’s all the same

the fabric of construction
a foil for the soul

like any sarcoma
it reveals itself

just as sagas built
on inspiration
fidelities of sorts

are susceptible to erosion
emotional jinxes
the Sabattier effect

exposure to light
obscuring the bones of it all

has triggered metamorphosis
rendered me androgynous

my silhouette
now a crumpled egg beater
on a sodden mattress

recalls your touch
fragrant as frangipani
forever gone

your form
so lush and fleshy
I got lost in you

once you stroked my slight curves
whispered in my ear
‘who’d know
you’ve given birth to men’

I love you
in Cyrillic script

on a shred of paper
I keep for the sliver of passion
left in me



Cherie Barford was born in 1960 in New Zealand to a German-Samoan mother and a palagi father. Her poetry has most recently appeared in Trout and Whetu Moana. Of ‘The Sabbatier Effect’, she writes: “I was living on the island of Lifou in the Loyalty Islands when I chanced upon a book of Man Ray photographs. Using a piece of sponge-foam as a mattress, I let the chickens run over me and thought about darkroom techniques such as polarization and the Sabattier effect. I had a sense I was over-exposed to the sun and was mutating. Combine this with a lovers’ tiff and voilà—The Sabbatier Effect.”