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When I was born, the warlord asked my mother to wash her hands in fire, for surely if she'd been true to him the gods would prove her innocence. When she refused, he pushed her in. Flames clothed her, wrapped her in a shawl of woven sparks. But she wasn't harmed.

And the warlord was satisfied, not understanding what the gods have told him, what Zhar has told him. Zhar, who wanted his daughter to have a mother.

When I was three I dodged my keepers for the first time, dipped my pudgy baby arms into a cooking flame. And when the warlord saw me, skin as red as a battle-bloody moon, the interlocking tails of salamanders traced upon it in ink that comes from the inkwells of darkness—

Oh, they had thought Zhar a woman, as old and inconsequential for them as cinders of an abandoned campsite. But I have walked with my father many times, seen her arms shape the sun each morning on the edge of the newborn steppe.

And let me tell you, I will never be far from my father, never journey beyond the circle of her warmth; for everywhere there is a flame I rise within it, my body burnished scales, a shawl of sparks over a story I have never told.

My mother's secret.

Fell from the firmament
star after star into sizzling sea;
it withered and quieted
leaving behind it nothing but amber.
I have been wandering
armed with the seven-edged dirk of my star,
belted in cinnabar
over my skin that fire won't burn.

Called on my burning by an ancient and watery name,
corralled the yearning of all of my oceans to surface again.
All of that yearning to live on in burning,
tame in your hearths but not in my heart;
all of that burning to anchor the yearning that coils and encircles my heart.




Emily Jiang holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Saint Mary’s College of California and a BA in English from Rice University. Her poetry has been published in Strange Horizons, Stone Telling, and Weird Tales. Her debut picture book Summoning the Phoenix was listed among the Best Children’s Books of the Year by Kirkus Review and The Huffington Post.
R.B. Lemberg is a queer, bigender immigrant from Eastern Europe to the U.S. R.B.’s Birdverse novella The Four Profound Weaves (Tachyon, 2020) was a finalist for the Nebula, Ignyte, Locus, and World Fantasy awards and was an Otherwise Award honoree. R.B.’s first Birdverse novel The Unbalancing is available now from Tachyon, and their Birdverse short fiction collection Geometries of Belonging is forthcoming from Fairwood Press in November 2022. You can find R.B. on Twitter at @rb_lemberg, on Patreon at http://patreon.com/rblemberg, and at their website rblemberg.net.
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21 Nov 2022

As far back as I could remember, Oma warned me about the bats. She said they would eat me if they found me exposed at night. But I knew the green light of the moon would protect me, even when I was still smaller than Oma.
The truth is: / she does not have to bend into a ceramic plate to carry us beautifully, & my father / isn't the hand that will break her.
the rattle of the rails, the shuffling-muttering of hundreds of passengers nestled in the one long limb of you
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