Size / / /

Poor Bahamut

Poor Bahamut, the bright fish
of celestial size, swimming
through the coldest depths
of space, dry, among the shoals
of distant stars and heaving
clouds of dust,

with his elephant's
head, his trunk rainbow-scaled
and probing the emptiness before
him; eyes vast as the hearts
of galaxies,

his back an expanse
of sand that beggars
the Sahara, and standing
in the sand a bull as big
as Jupiter, ruminant, stupid.
And on the bull's back
a ruby, its red gleam
just a fragment of the
spectrum of Bahamut's
shining scales.

Poor Bahamut; as if that weight
were not enough, the ruby
in turn supports an angel
with skin like pale marble
and art deco wings;
and that angel holds
long poles upon which spin
six hells (of fire, snow, oil,
suffocation, biting flies,
and ennui), and upon his head
the angel holds the Earth,
and over that (up on a system
of staggered platforms) rest
seven heavens, each with palaces
of platinum and gold.

The world-fish,
carrying the crushing weight
of every human and divine
concern, his spine bowing
under the burden; and though
his brain is larger than
constellations, he is no smarter
than any fish in a bowl,

Poor Bahamut lives in a perpetual
present, a now of pain
and weight, swimming into nothing
from nothing, the whole world
above him, out of sight.


Copyright © 2002 Tim Pratt

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Tim Pratt works as an editorial assistant at Locus magazine, and serves as editor of Star*Line, the journal of the Science Fiction Poetry Association. His poetry has appeared (or soon will) in Asimov's, Weird Tales, the Magazine of Speculative Poetry, and other nice places. Tim's previous publications in Strange Horizons can be found in our Archive. Visit his Web site for much more.

Author's note: I've always been fascinated by medieval bestiaries, with their oddly armored and over-horned rhinoceri, the straightforward inclusion of creatures like manticores and monkfish, and the descriptive passages that read more like poetry than biology. I decided to write my own bestiary, focusing on mythical creatures, preferably creatures of truly cosmic stature; and in each of these poems I hope to look at these beings from a new perspective. For now I give you Bahamut, the world-fish of early Islam, and next week, the Disemboweller, an odd and terrible figure from Inuit myth.

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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