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For Mike Allen

In conjunction with this piece by jeweler Meenoo Mishra of Minou Bazaar:

First feather

Girl for sale
Garbed in blues and greens
Framed in a circle of filigree
Dangling from a fine gold chain

Your knife hooked as a bird’s beak,
My love,
You carved out my heart
And drew it back in
With pen and pigment
And placed it under glass
For all to see

Second feather

In the strolling park where you painted
Just beneath the pomegranates
I strummed my sarangi
Each string a strand of long black hair
Each note a drop of blood

It hurts, it hurts
To be alone
A dark sky without a moon

But no one heard my song
Amidst the birdcalls,
My love—
Except for you

Third feather

A god you were
With a single feather in your crown
Your devotee
Chanting your hallowed name
In hushed tones
Waving my heart on a silver tray
Ringed with marigolds and sindoor-red roses
Before your statue on the shrine:

"O Lord, I beg you,
Accept this humblest of offerings!"

In the end, you did
And now you must eat from my hand
For always

Fourth feather

All the peacocks preened around you:
"Meh-aao, meh-aao!"
I laughed, for they might call down the rain
Yet what thunderhead
No matter how dark
How bitter and dismal
Could truly hide
The sun’s resplendent face?

Fifth feather

"Art is forever," you whispered
Lifting your brush
Brushing my hand
"Like love.
A moment made eternity."

"Then paint me," I pleaded
"I will dance for you, sing for you.
Only paint me bright and bold."

You studied me, then flashed
A smile like salty secrets
An appraiser’s smile:
How much, the value of this singular jewel?

My smile was all intrigue:
More than all the diamonds
More than all the pomegranates
More than all the peacocks in the world.

"Yes," you said, and began

Sixth feather

We were to wed
My heart, your hand
When the parched river drank you down
Leaving me only your pendant
With my portrait

I could not live

Forgive me, my love
A peacock was all I could manage

Seventh feather

The quill so sharp against my skin
Drawing blood as you drew my cheekbones
The kajal over my eyes
The sorrow below my breast

Your lost breath, my spilled tears:
The spell is cast

Eighth feather

You had me eating out of your hand,
My love,
Just as if I were the bird and you—
You the master, always

Yet I was the one with the magic
And I learned just how suddenly
Lovebirds forget to fly
When forced to part

Ninth feather

Everything must eat
It is a law of our world

Everything must eat:
You, the peacocks, I
Even art demands to be fed

An artist must sacrifice
For his muse
Not only tears and time
But souls and selves

Oh, my love,
You knew that going in
As did I

Sometimes the muse, too,
Must sacrifice herself for the artist

Tenth feather

You drew me so well, my love,
That I woke from death in my own likeness
Then, when my charm took effect
I drew you

My love, my love, did you really think
That whatever form you wore
In your next life—
Bird, blossom, or beast—
I would not find you again?

Eleventh feather

There is no eleventh feather
Enchantments, too, must be nourished

Twelfth feather

Twelve feathers minus one make a fan
Like the one I waved in your direction
On the days made of fire and dust
A peacock’s all-seeing eyes

They watch me now
As you, my love,
Won back from the thirsty river
And soundly preserved behind the glass
Of the pendant you once gave me,
Forever bend forward to peck seeds
From the bowl of my curved palm
Under my tenderest of smiles

Shveta Thakrar is a writer of South Asian–flavored fantasy, social justice activist, and part-time nagini. Her works have appeared in Mythic Delirium, UncannyFaerie, Kaleidoscope: Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories, and Steam-Powered 2: More Lesbian Steampunk Stories. When not spinning stories about spider silk and shadows, magic and marauders, and courageous girls illuminated by dancing rainbow flames, Shveta crafts, devours books, daydreams, draws, travels, bakes, and occasionally even practices her harp. Find out more at
Current Issue
30 Jan 2023

In January 2022, the reviews department at Strange Horizons, led at the time by Maureen Kincaid Speller, published our first special issue with a focus on SF criticism. We were incredibly proud of this issue, and heartened by how many people seemed to feel, with us, that criticism of the kind we publish was important; that it was creative, transformative, worthwhile. We’d been editing the reviews section for a few years at this point, and the process of putting together this special, and the reception it got, felt like a kind of renewal—a reminder of why we cared so much.
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In this special episode of Critical Friends, the Strange Horizons SFF criticism podcast, reviews editors Aisha Subramanian and Dan Hartland introduce audio from a 2018 recording for Jonah Sutton-Morse’s podcast Cabbages and Kings which included Maureen Kincaid Speller discussing with Aisha and Jonah three books: Everfair by Nisi Shawl, Temporary People by Deepak Unnikrishnan, and The Winged Histories by Sofia Samatar.
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By: RiverFlow
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