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1: The city in the clouds

glass spires rise above the clouds,
passing rainbows amongst them like
children pass round laughter.

water cascades between floating
lakes, pouring from one
to the next to feed the rivers below.

the citizens of the city tend to the planets weather.
their glee becomes sparkles in raindrops.
their chuckles rumbles of thunder.

for most,
everything is perfect.

2: The winged one

young Luna wanders between the spires,
their hand small in their mother's.

strangers cast glances at their mother’s tawny wings,
at the black feathers curled against Luna’s back.

winged-people like Luna are “tolerated,”
a resigned half-acceptance, half-hatred.

as Luna grows, the stares become laughter,
pointing, the disgust crackles the air.

on a moonless night, Luna shuts themselves
in their room with a knife and the will to free themselves.

the blade does little more than nick the skin,
drops of blood drip to the floor.

Luna bandages their wings, cocooning themselves
in clothes, blankets, fleeing into sleeps embrace.

3. A dance in the moonlight

Luna hides themselves away,
their wings beneath clothing,

themselves behind the walls of their home.
with their wings concealed,

Luna pretends to be normal.
sometimes, Luna forgets about their wings

until the feathers brush against their back.
each time they remember the teasing words

pulling them apart from the inside out.
there is no escaping that shame,

even in the pitch-black darkness of their room.
Luna’s friend Artemis coaxes them outside

on the night of a full moon.
they wander the city aimlessly.

Artemis’s wings draw many eyes to them.
in their mind, Luna tells themselves

they're not like Artemis at all.
this way, they don’t feel ashamed.

in fact, they don’t feel at all.
their feet carry them to a waterfall

on the outskirts of the city.
Artemis runs through it, laughing.

unwilling to be alone, Luna follows.
beyond is a secret grove in which winged

people dance amongst falling rose petals.
others soar above, between lakes and

outward to the empty air beyond the island.

the laughter overhead reaches Luna on the ground.

their wings flutter beneath their clothing.
Luna yearns to join the others in the air,

even just for a moment.
under the pale moonlight

they look euphoric.
if Luna joined them,

maybe they, too, could feel that.

instead, Luna sits on a large mushroom,
watching Artemis take flight.

4: Freedom

the night of the dance plays on repeat
in Luna’s heart and mind.

they'd learnt to loathe their wings, yet
simply watching others fly had awoken something in them.

amongst the clouds Artemis seemed to hold
a strange, new power Luna could not understand.

they return to the waterfall days later.
without Artemis, the grove isn’t magical.

it's merely another empty
patch of grass in their city.

at least no-one will bear witness to Luna
if, rather when, they fail.

Luna shrugs off layers of clothing
until their wings are free.

they examine the black feathers,
in the light the tips are golden.

they take a breath, jog forward, wings extended,
arms pumping, only to trip, fall, just as they’d feared.

their ears turn red with embarrassment.
they stand and gather themselves.

they take off at a run, wings flapping,
their feet leave the ground.

their stomach drops, panic surges through them,
they tumble, falling back to the soil.

all Luna wants is a moment of bliss to
hold onto forever.

maybe then, their desire to
fly would be quenched for eternity.

they decide to try.
just once more.

they run, catching a gust of wind, lifting off the ground,
soaring up to the clouds. weightless.

all their fear and their memories of hurt are shed.
they could do anything, be anyone.

for the first time, in a long time,
Luna feels the ecstasy of utter freedom.

Alexander Te Pohe is a Māori trans man living on Whadjuk Noongar land. He writes young adult fiction and poetry. His work appears in Centre for Stories’ anthology To Hold The Clouds, Djed Press, Tiger Moth Review, and Emerging Writers’ e/merge. Alexander also reviews young adult fiction for Rabble Books and Games.
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4 Dec 2023

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