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“To slow an animal
You break its foot with a stone”
-Michael Ondaatje

They arrive like sailboats,
skirting the wheat fields
with weary, tattooed feet.
Their tongues spill broken riddles,
but on the acidic, smoke wind,
a tragedy is whispered.

They passed through the mountains,
carrying their perfumes,
and discovering new ways
to carry their dead.
We cry, but then a story
repeats itself.

We show them the cornstalks, white stones.
They touch the plants
with their burnt fingertips,
and offer gifts:
tamed fireflies, seeds that sprout in droughts—
we are not interested.

In the evening, they whistle for ghosts,
breathe out the sunset, and plow fields with oxen.
A little girl dances with a little boy.
Do we occupy the same space?
Or do we remain sovereign, pure?

They fill their scars with indigo
(since they are all doctors),
and always know the right medicine—
burning dandelions, dizzy smoke,
the smell invades our wooden homes
and ruins what we know.

The medicine, they say, is for the mind,
for the heart, and soul.
Their medicine makes them sick,
but it makes them forget.
Our doctors cannot do that.

We cannot control the wind
or the circumstance.
Only how, sweet honey, drizzles
on sweet bread,
and how fire burns so quickly,
so greedily.

The killing begins at dawn,
or perhaps night.
Throats of their oxen,
dragons and pets, slashed
with carving knives.

The burning begins at noon.
First with their white linen and then
their burlap sacks of preserved memories.
Eventually the same color, same value.
After the smoke clears,
shoeprints of ash.

We stand to attention,
burn in shame for our cowards,
but still do not cry when the nomads
leave with the wind,
to the next unwelcome place.

To slow an animal, you break
its foot with a stone.
To break humans
requires more thought, and careful
attention to detail.

Maya James is a full-time student and emerging author. Her work has appeared in Strange Horizons, Soar: For Harriet, and Hello Giggles. She was recently long-listed for the Stockholm Writers Festival First Pages Prize, and is working on her first novel. You can find more of her work here:
Current Issue
25 Sep 2023

People who live in glass houses are surrounded by dirt birds
After a century, the first colony / of bluebirds flew out of my mouth.
Over and over the virulent water / beat my flame down to ash
In this episode of  Critical Friends , the Strange Horizons SFF criticism podcast, Aisha and Dan talk to critic and poet Catherine Rockwood about how reviewing and criticism feed into creative practice. Also, pirates.
Writing authentic stories may require you to make the same sacrifice. This is not a question of whether or not you are ready to write indigenous literature, but whether you are willing to do so. Whatever your decision, continue to be kind to indigenous writers. Do not ask us why we are not famous or complain about why we are not getting support for our work. There can only be one answer to that: people are too busy to care. At least you care, and that should be enough to keep my culture alive.
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