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This poem is part of our 2015 fund drive bonus issue! Read more about Strange Horizons' funding model, or donate, here.


* * *

The earth is the foundation of the mind and the mind, of building.
The earth is mother, birthing stone from seed,
the earth is father, birthing seed from stone,
the earth is parent to the seed,
this moonstone shining with a latent gleam
invisible but to a mighty eye
that reads within each seed its ancestry
back to the dawn of time, before the first seed fell
into the endless void, creating land.
The earth, the mind, and a building are structured alike.
A latent grid, invisible to all
but the most powerful eye, that web of weights
unfelt, unknown but to a mighty mind:
it is upon a grid that names alight.
A magical grid of latent lines is at the foundation of these three most fundamental endeavors: the land, which is the deed of the Powers; the mind, which is the deed of the land; and strong building, which is a deed of people.
The grid of land was formed when all was still,
the Powers wrought it out of breath and dust
before the first ones witnessed what was done,
before the first ones stepped upon the land.
Onto the grid of land the first ones spoke—
the people summoned to that holy deed,
called from the stars and from the dreaming waste,
called from beyond the veils of sundering wave.
They spoke their deepnames then and lit the land
from south to north, to buzz with their own words,
to lay in stillness in the absence of their words,
in languages of silence—each their own.
* *

A strong builder's first act of creation is to take deepnames, these foundations of power to alight on the strong builder's own naming grid. This act of creating the self upon the foundation supplied by the land, this act of creating the self who can act magically, becomes in itself a foundation for any future acts of building.
A latency has formed the soul from land,
unborn and yet now yearning to be found
and through both choice and learning be bound
to this enormous art: how to command
the soil and silt and rock; to comprehend
the speech of brick and beam; by one's own mind
both stone and mortar to imbue with light.
The best configuration for a strong builder is the Builder's Triangle: a configuration of three deepnames with one, two, and three syllables, the perfectly stable foundation from which to act further.
A power that acts rashly is too strong.
It will subdue and conquer, all for naught:
destructive power hardly leaves a trace,
destructive power is destroyed by death.
[one-syllable, two-syllable]
Curbed by compassion, action is not rash.
It guides and guards and wisely weighs its truths,
and yet this power seldom leaves a trace:
a kind dominion, too, destroyed by death.
[one-syllable, two-syllable, three-syllable]
Three-syllable: a weak but crafty name
that lends its firmness to the stronger two:
though self may pass, but what the self has wrought
endures in stone beyond the builder’s death.

Acting inwards, the strong builder takes deepnames for their own mind. Acting outwards, the strong builder then creates deepnames to alight upon the grids of buildings.
Created from one's core, a string of names
alights upon the grid of structures built
from stone and wood, from straw and sand and silt,
from mud and brick; the power of the mind
created from one's core. This work remains
in buildings stately, subtle, plain and grand,
in buildings that take root inside the land,
in buildings that took shape inside the mind.
The land and mind and building are aligned;
stability and movement made a light
that shall endure; the land to guard the mind
that has created building with its might,
that has created building from its core.

R.B. Lemberg is a queer, bigender immigrant and the Nebula and Crawford-nominated author of Birdverse stories and other works. Their Birdverse novella The Four Profound Weaves is forthcoming from Tachyon Press in 2020. You can find R.B. on Twitter at @rb_lemberg, on Patreon at, and at
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