I will show you a single treasure from the treasures of Shah Niyaz

by Rose Lemberg


There once lived a poor woman who glorified Bird
with such exultation that the goddess turned
every song she sang into a thread.
She sang, and they hung from her mouth, the wool
dipped in vowels of madder and pomegranate
and consonants of indigo.
Her body was cocooned in them,
and her kinsmen praised her,
until she sang and spoke no more.

Come, pull on these threads, Khana trader, pay us in gold
coins of Niyaz, pay us in salt and loukum,
unravel her mouth so she will speak again,
unravel her mouth so she will sing
madder and walnut out of Bird's feathers.


There was a Khana woman who walked through the sands
in sturdy shoes of rose-adorned leather
to trade in spidersilk and in fine wool,
in salt and honey crystal, and in staves of blue wood.
Her lovers went with her — they hid in the sleeves of the whirlwind
and walked again in quiet weather,
stepped over the bones of forgotten beasts
the desert wind reveals in its open fist, before it closes again.
And they would sing of this, but they are forbidden,
all Khana women are forbidden from this,
and especially among strangers.

I have pulled this thread from your mouth, stranger,
walnut and pomegranate rind — is it a song I have touched?
You say you'll never raise your voice again,
even if I fill your mouth with gold coins,
even if I fill your mouth with sand — but still your eyes
will see the glory of Bird rising
arrayed in feather clouds, and inside
your voice, like a shriveled walnut rattling in its shell,
will sing her colors, hoarse with yearning,
will sing in all the ways that are forbidden to me.


There was a weaver in a tent of old leather
stooped on the reed floor. Her children had forsaken her,
this poor woman with wool-burned fingers,
blind with Bird's visions that the wind brought her, blind
with visions of the beasts rising from buried bone
that the wind reveals and hides in its clenched fist.
She would weave from fine wool and spidersilk, but she had only sisal,
and when sisal ran out she wove from dry reeds,
and when the reeds grew no more she wove a carpet from air,
an invisible road for the wind to step on,
to bring her a story that even the winds forgot.

Who are you, traders that I cannot see
in your rattling ornaments and your good creaking shoes,
aren't your faces dry from wandering?
Give me of these fine threads that sing with indigo and weld,
I'll make it into a carpet of my hurts,
knot it into a desert alive with Bird's burning,
I'll weave — with undyed wool and spidersilk —
the bones out of their hiding places.
I will blot out the screaming of my flesh
with the song of the wild madder
through a thousand nights until my work is done.


Like the wind that opens its fist
to reveal a thousand years of lives not its own,
so does the ruler of Niyaz
open and close his coffers
on a whim, and only for himself.

Do you know this, spinner who chokes on a song?
Do you know this, trader with blood inside your shoes?
Do you know this, star-weaver with your slow, crooked fingers?

Yes, even for the ruler of Niyaz

who knows nothing of this song or this wandering,
who knows nothing of this dry blood rattling inside the bones.

Rose Lemberg is an immigrant from three countries. Her prose and poetry have appeared in Strange Horizons, Apex, Goblin Fruit, Through the Gate, Mythic Delirium, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and other venues. She edits Stone Telling with Shweta Narayan. Rose can be found at her website and her Livejournal blog.

"I will show you a single treasure..." comes from Birdverse, a place of great wonder that lives inside Rose and insists on being told. Currently, Rose is querying a fantasy novel, Bridgers, set in this world.

When asked of the style of music she'd most like a poem of hers put to, she replied as follows:

"Last year my friend Emily Jiang set an unpublished poem of mine, 'Salamander Song,' to music as a part of her Songs of Moon and Mischief. It is an art song, and it is absolutely perfect. While I cannot link to it, sadly, here is Emily's 'A Pentatonic Moon' at Interfictions.

Of poems not set to music, I'd most love to hear another unpublished poem of mine, An Incantation for the Road; or perhaps 'Reap the Whirlwind,' at Jabberwocky. Emily's style would actually be perfect for both."

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