(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,

even once.


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.

Photo by Camila Quintero Franco on Unsplash

Creator Spotlight:
May Chong
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. 


Recommend something:

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.

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