(CW: body horror)
In some warm place, a heart
is fated to become kingfisher
and bones, pillars under sky.
Body a rich harvest
for future sons to reap.
Gleaming rivers woven from blood,
a left eye sun, a right eye moon.
Even a monster’s death
heralds winged wonders. But
look what I am made of, look
what they made me.
I will not stoop to pretend
I was ever useful.
Go, bury my unlovely face
away from the sun. I am already
tangled with the dark earth,
bare fingers bursting
with sleek maggots. The gleaming viper
emerges from my eyes, unblinking
as the sword. See my tongue
uncouple from its roots and squirm
into hagfish, lamprey, lightning-gutted
ribbon worm. Limbs honeycomb
with gleaming king cobra eyes,
all the better to devour
other snakes. Ears shatter
with the weight of all words
into rag-toothed barnacles.
From my collarbones swarm the shrew
and weasel, shrill and ravenous.
My mouth breeds fire coral,
blood-breaker with roots.
My femurs become unyielding
belian trees, my dirty toes
datura blooms. Backbones blossom
into ipoh and manchineel.
See, my nails
are touch-me-not cone snails,
and centipedes uncoil from my teeth.
Guts split and spray flies, a cloud
of rove beetles with blistering rage
in every drop of ichor. If you dare
now, come crush me.
Every fallen eyelash erupts
into a shrike, every drop
of sweat a jade stinkbug.
Each artery a flatworm, each vein
a hawkmoth, built to part the bloom.
Every wild hair a bristling koel, too
brown and female for soothing
serenades (to who?)
like I: glass screaming
in a feather coat.
And my voice, the thing
you wished dearly to die,
will ring in songs
of summer cicadas.
Remember what you did. I will
laugh last and loudest in the air,
the water, the soil that yields
only to me.
This cursebody belongs
to nobody. It leaves the world
all things awkward and eerie,
fear given legs and bellies.
Owed to none, friend to those
who have looked into
the stadiums of monster teeth
and wanted fangs to bare in turn,
May Chong is a Malaysian poet, speculative writer and 2019 Rhysling Award nominee (for her poem in Apparition Lit #1, Esprit d’escalier). Her verse has previously been featured in various regional and international venues including Strange Horizons, Anathema Magazine, Eye to the Telescope, Sine Theta Magazine and Longleaf Review. When she’s not at the keyboard, you’ll generally find May behind the mic doing spoken word, or outdoors looking for neat birds/bugs/Pokemon. She tweets at @maysays.
Author of “Cursebody”
What inspired you to write this story/poem?
I don’t suppose “REALLY ANGRY” in 10-foot high flaming letters would cut it?
More seriously: a liver’s worth of anger, a gutful of disgust, and one heaped skull of the disquieting, frightening, fierce and glorious things that come out of nature.
The beginning was adapted, loosely, from various creation myths. ‘Heart becomes a kingfisher’, was something I first encountered while reading Ursula Vernon’s Digger (everyone should read Digger, in my not very humble opinion). I wanted to write about a woman who was fed up, unrepentantly angry in ways I couldn’t be, who turned her body not into rice and moons and gentle nurturing things, but poisonous, low creatures removed from beauty. Things that fight back if you touch them wrong. When I pitched it I said: here is someone who refuses redemption.
What do you hope readers take from this story/poem?
You know an angry woman like this. You may not know who it is, but you do. And if you are that angry woman, I hope you find some comfort as we both roar into the void. I still believe that together we can all create a world where no monster finds defenseless prey ever again.
To give other writers hope, would you mind sharing with us how many edits and/or submissions this story/poem has been through?
Apparition Literary was the second venue Cursebody went to. It took about 3 months to go from first notes to the version that was submitted.
For less toothy nature poetry, I have a micro-chapbook called Seed, Star, Song out now from Ghost City Press. Pay what you want for a little collection of bugs, birds, bunnies and an undisclosed number of beetles.