A Record of My Emperor After the Elixir of Life

(Spring | 春)


My Emperor’s corpse flutters his 

Eyes open; lacquer-blacks desiring


Gentleness of plum leaves. Mercury

Dots his lips as he stubbornly relapses into


A brocade of a previous life’s glory. By day he

Rattled the ribcage of the imperial court; by night he


Coagulated the gardens where he promised women

The peonies’ beauty while cultivating their youth


And softness for his own. Now his body bubbles 

With Death’s fungus, but who dares to challenge 


The son of heaven? Beneath the moon, my pulse

Alone laments his bloodless skin.


(Summer | 夏)


My Emperor grew up tracing clouds with

Wooden swords – how he resented tales of


His mountainous wrath, yet nothing spurred

Him more than a defenseless sun. Now he shivers


Under the palace caisson, shrinking from flies

Threatening to make nests of his limbs. Once upon


A summer, we penned poetry on a roof to

Preserve the passing stars; we changed tongues


In every room out of fear. Somewhere amidst his

Parchment skin and bone, there must lie the young man


Who once gushed waterfall pride; who drew 

Light from the bottom of every darkest chest. 


(Autumn | 秋)


The cinnabar gates gashing the sky

Recalls my Emperor’s later years when 


He uprooted trees he’d raised, in hunger

For every shade of knowledge and power that


Marks a mortal greater above all. The greatest sin

I’d committed was to gift him a scarlet record


Of life eternal, drunken with old promises that 

Drenched my heart yet scarcely rocked his boat.


For my Emperor, who turned war and lust upon

Faces of the same coin, there was no winning 


Without sacrifice. Why question godhood, said he, 

When we’d meet in every passage in history? 


(Winter | )


That fateful night, my Emperor swirled the potion, 

Milky like the hair misting his face, a sliver of 


Empresses past. He’d read my eyes the way we’d

Pored over scripture as boys – when our words


Danced rather than slashed. By a moonlit lake,

My Emperor cuts himself open on snowflakes and 


Swallows the soup of the dead; there is no more ambition

To bleed for, no yearning to mourn. He whispers


The goodbye I’d practiced over and over upon

An elderly guqin. Soon only winter shall remember


The dreams we’d set free to sun-dappled lands. 

Did you know? We had our eternity, seasons ago.


Arda Mori (she/her) is a Malaysian writer. Her words are forthcoming or appear in Horns & Rattles Press, Eye To The Telescope, Strange Horizons, and elsewhere. Find her on Twitter/X at @armori_ or at ardamori.wordpress.com.


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