Embroidery of Feathers

A stitch in cloth,

A feather formed.

 

Pink and red,

The needle a silver tattoo.

 

A stitch in cloth,

A legend born.

 

Stylized wings,

Silent beating.

 

A stitch in time,

Joy awakes in song.

 

 

 

Coupled in tandem,

A Duet etched in gleaming thread.

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Swirls of Brown

I can see her in the mirror, flexing her wings as I flex

my shoulder blades.

 

Her feather are swirls of brown,

whorls of mahogany curling like peacock tail feather

eyes.

 

Under the lamp, she exists just as I exist – an ephemeral creature,

a bird of myth,

my heritage.

 

I begin to scrap off the dry brown crusts and

the phoenix is now fiery, vivid red-orange.

Like tongues of flame,

marking my body

with ley lines of power.

 

I begin to dance

the dance taught to me by my teachers.

I dance the dance of Garuda,

with my fire swirls on my skin

– protector, warrior, guardian.

 

Size Does Not Matter

Am I too big for my size?

She asks sweetly, delicate head watching her watcher who squirms uncomfortably in his pants, wishing that he were indeed elsewhere, enjoying a glass of cold sorbet with lithe houris. Anything away from those flaming mad eyes.

Am I too big?

She asks again, her voice still sweet, her demeanor still delicate, her eyes fixed on her watcher who fumbles for the right answer, couched in the right tone.

I am hungry.

She declares suddenly, no more sweet voice, no more delicate demeanor. She launches into the sky, a flurry of bronze feathers, clashing like lightning, like live sun-fire. Swoops down, delicate head now a cruel snarl with crooked raptor’s beak, and grabs an elephant firmly with two scimitar-sharp talons. The elephant struggles, streaming ribbons of blood, trumpeting in terror.

Am I too big for my size?

She asks sweetly once more, licking her lips clean of the iron-rich fluid, preening herself, all sated beauty reposed on her seat of glory. Ivory tusks frame her crimson settee, animal hides the carpets and the tapestries.

No, Your Highness.

The watcher whispers, hoping it is a safe answer, knowing that those flaming mad eyes are upon him again. He really wishes for a glass of cold sorbet and a bevy of lithe houris.

Anything away from the Roc’s lair.

 

 

Remember Me

Remember me when you burn my feathers, all three of them, in different times.
Remember me when the feathers catch fire and pull me – siren-song – to your side.
Remember me.

Remember me when you burn my feathers, my gift to you, my eternal gratitude, when you smashed the snake’s head with your mallet and my children saved.
Remember me when you go off adventuring, as heroes would do, in far-off distant lands.
Remember me.

Remember me when you burn my feathers, each a part of me, a piece of me.
Remember me when you call for help and burn them with fire.
Remember me when the debt is paid and everything else is even.

Thunder Bird Woman

She danced like thunder,
Her feet the deep drums from Sky Father,
Her hands wings from Earth Mother.

She danced like thunder,
Over the mesas, waking Coyote
And Eagle, lightning her shawl.

She danced like thunder,
Her song rolling across the sky,
Joining the rest of her family.

She danced like thunder,
Her feet the deep drums from Sky Father,
Her hands wings from Earth Mother.

Full Circle

Ting watched her pining away for her husband. Her sister. The pride of their family. Her best friend and confidante.

She had been the clever one. A poet, a talented zither player, a dancer. Then she met him during Mid-Autumn and fell in love with him, even though they were match-made.

The grandaunts and aunts all claimed that it was a match made in Heaven. In their family, things always came in pairs. Feng. Huang. Feng Huang. Complete. Full circle.

He went off, like any wandering scholar, to seek intellectual enlightenment. His departure dimmed her feathers and turned her into a morose woman, waiting by the door. Waiting for him.

“This should not continue!” Ting stormed one day to her mother. “Even the sparkle in her eyes is gone!”

“Oh, young Ting,” her mother shook her head. “You do not understand.”

“I do!” Ting’s bright silk sleeves glittered, morning clouds tinged with the sun. “Will my fate be the same?” She recoiled unhappily.

“If you find the right mate, the right half.”

“No.”

Ting’s refusal was cold and curt. She fled to the place where the streams ran crystal-clear. There she cried and stared at the reflection wavering in the water.

Feng Huang. Was she content being incomplete? Or was her path different?

The Jeweled Tree

Darius climbs, panting, eyeing the
Jeweled Tree, guarded by the fabulous Phoenix
Who is thought to smell of spices and gleam with
Gold that he wants, he wants.

So he continues, climbing up sharp-rocked cliffs
Cutting his hands, watched by swifts
Who laugh and wonder why he wanted
To go to the Jeweled Tree.

Up he goes, determined, a stoic warrior –
Nay, just a man who suddenly confronts a woman
With a golden diadem like a queen, a queen
Who stares at him with diamond eyes, her face
Beautiful, cold and fierce.

“Why are you here?” She sings and her diadem gleams.
“Why are you taking my gold?”

Darius gasps and almost loses his footing, scrambling.
But the distant queen grabs him, her skin brazen hot
And saves him from certain death.
Oh how she saves him from certain death.

Now Darius leaves the Jeweled Tree, holding
Something close to his chest: a queen’s promise
And her quiet vow to fiercely protect her precious nest.
He never climbs again.

A Kimono Of Peacock Feathers

Hitomi knelt neatly on the rush tatami, a picture of serene beauty. Her hair had been brushed into a lustrous shine, a river of black ink curling down her back. Her face was powdered white, with a dab of crimson on her lips.

It was her kimono that had attracted envious glances. Crafted by the finest Heian kimono maker, it shimmered in many colors, like the tail feathers of the peacock. Her long sleeves flared out, arranged beautifully by her maids. Beneath the rich garment were the layers of inner kimonos, subtler in shade and bringing the vividness of the peacock feather hues most startlingly.

“Oh look, a wonder in the sky!” One of the maids exclaimed, manicured hand on trembling lips. Hitomi craned her neck slightly, catching sight of something bright and flying in the spring sky.

“A Ho-Ho!” Another maid joined in the exultation. The appearance of a Ho-Ho was an auspicious omen. It was the harbinger of good news. Soon, the news arrived on running feet: the birth of the Emperor’s son.

Hitomi cringed inwardly. She did not want to be a concubine. Her father, a minor samurai, had sent her to the palace in the hope that she – and her family – would win favor with the Emperor. No. She did not want to spend her youth bearing children, year after year. She was above such drudgery.

“I want to go to the gardens,” she declared and the maids obeyed, helping her up to her feet because the kimono was heavy. Her heart, however, was light.

Once there, in the garden and surrounded by the pink cherry-blossom trees, she dismissed the maids. They went away, muttering about “that strange concubine”.

She laughed merrily and spread her arms, the peacock feather colors flashing in the sun. She would fly away, like her sister the Ho-Ho.

Tongue Of Cinder And Spite

She has a tongue of cinder and spite, a fire-tongue.

When she speaks, things crackle, burn and incinerate into black ashes. Words emerge, spark into flame and then fizzle away, as the spite eats away like fire with fragile paper.

Fire-tongue, flame-tongue.

“You turn the sky to gold, but your tongue burns.”

“Your songs are heavenly, but your words sting.”

“Tame thy tongue, ol’ great bird of fire.”

She tastes the cinder and the spite. Like cordite. Like ash. Like burnt paper ashes reduced to nothing. She knows that her words have power and spiteful as they are, they serve a purpose. There is Life. There is Death. Words are never honey sweet. Not all the time.

She speaks and cities grow, only to fall and grow again.

She speaks and great men rise to power, only to plummet down in shame.

She speaks and funeral pyres burn, for the young and the old, only to send the bright spirits skywards.

She has a tongue of cinder and spite, a fire-tongue.

Myrrh and Frankincense

The woman peered anxiously at the sky, feeling the perspiration curl down her back in a delicate thread. Her cotton chemise felt damp. It was the hottest day. Everything was sun-baked, crackling. Even the Nile crocodiles – Dua Sobek! – were immobilized into a state of catatonia, their fanged jaws wide open while tiny birds picked at their teeth for scraps.

She had prepared the beds of spices and herbs. Frankincense, myrrh, sandalwood, willow. Lit with fire, they had begun burning and the intense fragrances wafted skywards.

A bright flash of light, like the sun coming down to land. A bird-shape soared in the sky, gradually spiraling down in lazy circles, until it landed gracefully: a long-legged bird, like a purple heron, crowned with two long feathers. The eyes gleamed with a star-like quality. The feathers were tipped with sun-fire.

“I am here,” the Bennu said in a sweet fluting voice. “Have you prepared the beds?”

The woman bowed, touched by the Bennu’s beauty.

The Bennu stepped elegantly to the beds of spices still smoldering away with ruby-red embers. Without a sound, she hopped onto the beds and promptly sat down, as if to roost. The smoke grew thick, the fragrances stronger. The feathers sparked and soon, the Bennu was engulfed in a fast-burning white fire. The woman shielded her eyes and when she opened them again, the Bennu was gone. In its place was a young woman, smooth of skin, bright eyes like stars at night. She wore only a plain chemise and was already dusting the ashes off her body fastidiously with a look of gentle distaste on her sharp face.

“And we repeat this every year,” the young woman said dryly when the other woman approached her with a cotton veil. She wore it quietly, draping it around her head. The piles of spices sent puffs of aromatic smoke. She sneezed.

“The people demand it,” the other woman explained matter-of-factly, helping the young woman up to her feet. “They want the continuity of legends.”

“Ah, I see, I see.”

The two women walked away from the funerary pyre. The young woman, the former Bennu, glanced at her companion and said archly, “Next time you do it.”

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