Stone Telling

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Sung Around Alsar-Scented Fires

by Alex Dally MacFarlane

Under Falna's Mask:
See me!  See me!  Falna the fierce
with my son on my back, tenth child, battle-charm;
with my wife at my side, her hair bare of bones
and her knife sharp as anger.
My hair is full.
Hear me!  My hair clacks out
the names of the dead, speaks their existence
in toe-bones that still smell of burnt alsar.

        See the bones in her hair!
        How they sing out the names of the dead!

See the stars in the sky—how they shine!
How they spit out bright craft of silver and white and
people from far away,
wanting our land for tests, for farms, for factories,
for the gold that runs through it like solidified rivers—
our wealth.  Ours.

They found my family.

        Sing: Tuvi, Cira, Fari, Fa-qaro, Fa-sen!

The wind blew bare of their names,
forgetful.  No one knew of their deaths
until I
came home.  Hear me!

        Sing: Tuvi, Cira, Fari, Fa-qaro, Fa-sen!
        How the wind carries them here!

Hear me sing their names: Tuvi, Cira, Fari, Fa-qaro, Fa-sen!
I sang as I neatened their bodies, laid under the sky
properly, accidentally—the far-off people gave them that,
but no one burnt alsar at their feet,
no one spoke a name,
not one.
No one wept into a wife's shoulder,
strong as love.  No one took bones for hair-ornament
and strapped a tenth child to a back, for luck,
for victory,
until I did those things.  Hear me!

        See the knife in her hand!
        How it calls out for vengeance in blood!

In a camp, in tents white as hot metal,
as their weapons that burned through my family's flesh—
only six of them lived, fever's first flush.
We wielded surprise.
We rode into their camp, two to a befil
and our son on my back; we offered trade,
gold for medicine.  My wife coughed.
My wife struck first, when they turned their backs
like chives under a blade.

        Sing: Tuvi, Cira, Fari, Fa-qaro, Fa-sen!
        How the wind remembers them there!

Like chives, un-sung, they fell.  They bloodied the ground
and we covered them with stones,
un-buried.  We didn't learn their names.
We left,
our cheeks tattooed with victory
our son's tattooed with luck:
a single black line, horizon-straight.

But hear me!

        See the dead on the ground!
        How they fall, though we stand and fight!

More will come,
dead-collecting, dead-avenging,
holding excuses like blades.
See me!  Falna the fierce—
their weapons didn't kill us!

        See Falna the fierce!
        How her bones are like tenth-child charms—

        See the far-off people's craft!
        How they fly like chives re-growing.

Alex Dally MacFarlane lives and works in London, where the foxes cross paths with her at night. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Clarkesworld Magazine, Strange Horizons, Fantasy Magazine, The Mammoth Book of Steampunk, SteamPowered II: More Lesbian Steampunk Stories, The Moment of Change, Escape Pod, Sybil's Garage and Goblin Fruit, and has been nominated for the Rhysling Award. A handbound limited edition of her story Two Coins was published by Papaveria Press in 2010.

Read Alex's discussion of this poem over at the Roundtable!