Size / / /

                The captain in his cabin lay,
                a voice came to him and thus did say,
                "Prepare yourself and ship’s company,
                for tomorrow night you must lie with me."
                                                Traditional

The land is lost and all it held.
Never again will its name be spoken.
I opened my veins and pushed inside
gardens, graves, rocks, books,
first memories of light—but they spilled out of me,
all that I ruled once. The mountain roiled
like my gut, heaved lava
over carved stone and manuscript, and the seawind
blew the flower off the quince.

Oh, the quince. Shut up about the quince,
the last fucking seed you saved
behind your cheek, as in the avalanche
of fire and ash, our people
screamed and fell silent. You saved it and I
drew and drew on the power I held,
all of the structure in the world as I ran up the mountain—
—lovers, graves, blood, books—
cursing the ancestors who brought us here.
I pulled
on my might: the Royal House, the magic
of one, one, and two syllables,
most stable in the land,
benevolent and—fuck, I pulled
and pulled and pulled this structure out of me,
my marrow, my bone, my sinew, my gut,
all to hold my land in place.

Beneath the isles, underwave
where the Star of the Tides slept fitfully,
it stirred and strained, unbalancing the mountain,
unbalancing the world,
sifting
clouds of ash with smoke and thunder
where no structure in the world could hold it,
no ruler could devise
a defense to appease it—so I , I,  I—

I broke my mind. I broke the Royal House:
two syllables into one, seized the Warlord’s Triangle—
one, one, and one—the most dangerous, unstable
deepname configuration in the land,
the pinnacle of power, but it wasn’t about power.
Rage—
rage that my people were dying,
and you and your fucking gardens,
and I, powerless—
          you caught me as I fell,
           the seed behind your cheek, you caught me
               as I fell

Endeavor to ensoul the sea;
sailing from our home's ruin—later
will they say that we sang?
No—tossed by the storm,
we clenched our teeth
not looking at each other.
Survivors. Those lost trailed us as ghosts,
then one by one licked off by the wave—we hid
in our cheeks that last ash,
last sputter of home: seed and thread,
emerald and clumps of earth
into which we’ll never again sink our fingers—

           I stretched
my arms, and with all my might
that had failed and failed us again,
I made a structure out of the deep sea,
subdued the unconquerable wave,
stretched threads of light between my sailors
and they, too, joined me
until the sea was pacified.

           Why not before? Why not this gloriously before
           when we had no reason to hoard shards,
           our home still anchored in the slumbering star?

You do not answer.
Like the others, you keep silent,
your mouth already sprouting.




R.B. Lemberg (they/them) is a queer, bigender immigrant originally from L’viv, Ukraine. R.B.’s work set in their fantastical Birdverse has been a finalist for the Nebula, Ignyte, World Fantasy, Locus, Crawford, and other awards. R.B.’s Birdverse collection Geometries of Belonging is currently shortlisted for the Ursula K. Le Guin Prize for Fiction. You can find R.B. on Instagram and Bluesky, on Patreon, and at rblemberg.net.
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