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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Strange Horizons is a weekly magazine of and about speculative fiction. We publish fiction, poetry, reviews, essays, interviews, and art. For more information, see our about page. All material in Strange Horizons is copyrighted to the original authors and may not be reproduced without permission.