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Plate Spinning

You know Amala? Big man, lives over
by the bay, hunched over with a pole
balanced on his back (I think it's a cedar
pole, but who knows?). Kids around here
(when there were kids around here)
used to climb on patient old Amala,
and shimmy up his pole, up through
the clouds and the top of the sky,
and they say the great wheel of the Earth
is up there, balanced on the end of the pole,
spinning, like Amala is a plate-spinner
on Ed Sullivan or in vaudeville, though
old Amala's been around since long before
those shows began. (Oh, you've got that
college-boy look on your face, you think
this sounds like that idiot Atlas, but
Amala's not as stupid, and he doesn't hate
his job, mostly; and you think "How
can he stand on the Earth, and at the same
time support the Earth?" There's a reason
the ancients never asked such dumb
questions. This isn't about physics or
geography, it's about the fact
that the world must rest on someone's
shoulders.) Amala always picked
one of those kids, whichever climbed
the highest with the least fear, to be
his servant for the year. It wasn't such
a bad job -- I did it in my time. You
just rub duck oil into his muscles on
Midsummer's day, and soothe his
aches, and then you can go on your
way. The stories say that someday
all the ducks will be gone, over-hunted
to extinction (though I think it's more
likely they'll die from over-development
of the wetlands), and the servant
will search far and wide for duck oil
and find none, and Amala will groan
and cramp, and his muscles will shudder,
and he'll slip, just one slip in the whole
of forever, and the spinning Earth
will fall from the pole, crash into
itself, and shatter like a dropped plate.

And so, my son, I suggest you do
as I say, gather a few ducks from the lake,
take them back East with you somewhere
safe, and see that they breed; and when
a young man with callused hands
and a desperate look on his face comes
to you from far away, give him a bottle
of duck oil, free of charge, and teach
your sons to do the same. For all our sakes.


Copyright © 2002 Tim Pratt

Reader Comments

Tim Pratt is a poet and fiction writer living in the San Francisco Bay Area. He attended Clarion in 1999, and now works as an editorial assistant for Locus, and also edits Star*Line, the journal of the Science Fiction Poetry Association. His work has appeared in Asimov's, Strange Horizons, The Year's Best Fantasy & Horror, and other nice places. His previous publications in Strange Horizons can be found in our Archive. For more about Tim, visit his Web site.

Author's Note: In my ongoing Bestiary, I focus on mythic creatures, often beings of truly cosmic stature, and attempt to look at them from an unusual perspective while still remaining true to the myths from which they originate. "Plate Spinning" is about Amala, a being from the mythology of the Tsimshian people, native to the Northwest coast of the United States.

Tim Pratt won a Hugo Award for his short fiction (and lost a Nebula and a World Fantasy Award), and his stories have appeared in The Best American Short Stories, The Year's Best Fantasy, and other nice places. He lives in Oakland, California, with his wife Heather Shaw and son River. For more information about him and his work, see his website. To contact him, send him email at
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