By dusk, our ships had filled with stallions.
They shimmered like wind under moonlight
and they snarled like the smoke-spirits
that haunt the Gold Forest Islands.
Their edges blurred like morning,
their voices awakening even the starfish fossils
light-years under the shore.
They demanded to be fed first, before
we rigged the sails. Even before
the sea priests’ blessing.
We tried not to stare too long at
their gold-trimmed braids while
spiking their rum with flecks of salt.
At midnight the captain gathered us ’round.
The stallions were concerned, he said,
too long without mares.
They’d go wild,
they’d unlearn hoovery,
the tips of gold on their braids would pop off
and float away along this spinning sea.
So we sailed for mares.
Earth-sunken roots and driftwood,
full and fertile mares
who knew how to tell stories,
to draw up shelter with nothing but song,
to listen to the chants of stars.
Soon, it seemed, all we spoke of were mares.
Charcoal and mahogany, round and soft,
white smoke escaping their dark lips,
dressed in silks dipped in blood berries,
trimmed with saffron tassels.
Mares that would know how to run in thick
forests with their eyes closed.
Mares who could barter with spirits,
who walked bare-hooved across tops of bogs.
We could already feel them.
We found them on an island of ice.
Their coats were dull and grey like shadows
and snow, like their pale lips.
They watched the hard sorrow in the stallions,
who inwardly cursed our find.
These weren’t true wild mares.
We wanted earth and they were water.
We wanted roots and they were veins.
We wanted driftwood and they were drops of oil in the dark,
a sweet, slick heartbeat.
But they were mares,
and so we hoisted them into the ships.
Six or so died in the struggle.
We lined their water bowls with poppies so they could rest,
and we combed their manes until they reflected
the moon on the sea.
We painted their lips but they licked the colour away.
They missed their muzzles of snow.
And when they knew we couldn’t hear,
Our island was bluest.
Bluer than juniper, than lapis, than the seas.
We unloaded them into the golden forests and
pushed them inland,
our new home.
We’d spend the night on the port,
so I stretched and took a deep breath
and asked our mares
to tell us a story.
The mares had long stopped their crying by then.
They wrapped their beautiful, grey bodies
with red silks under the wicked sun.
And they said,
Once, we lived on ice.
Once, we wore silks made of sapphires.
Once, through masks of snow, we could translate the stars.
You’ll find more where this came from in our latest book.