verhoyansk reqiuem

by Maggie Wang

First printed in Tiger Girl, Pascale Petit, (Bloodaxe Books, 2020) reviewed by Natalie Perman in the Autumn 2020 Issue of the ORB.

they used to call this town hell made of ice. their lips would tremble

as they said it, and then freeze again, not quite closed, so the cold

would seep through and mark their teeth like the walls of old caves

dripping with limestone and groundwater. they used to come back

from trips to the cities on the coast and marvel at the houses cut out

of the snowscape. constellations, they said, and named them after

the smatterings of stars which showed here even through the smoke

from the old wood-burning stoves that choked newborns and mothers

alike. they used to pile up the furs in the corner opposite the fire:

reindeer, lynxes, wolverines pulled from the edges of the forest

or the far hills where incoming planes sometimes spotted blemishes

against the white shoulders of the earth. they would need them

someday, more than they would need the money, which they kept

in an old metal jar under the bed and never touched. but now, the furs,

too, lie untouched, except by the sun, which pierces through the

smokeless sky and melts the skin of living and dead together. now, the

heat dissolves each star into a universe too large to hold even in this

far-flung land. now, the torch that once flared cold into the night

dims against the onslaught of the mire. new winds wake old plagues

buried in the archives of the swelling riverbed. monuments crumble

under their own weights when the ground beneath them refuses

to hold. far away, the trees will bend for men to write their histories

of heat, and there, just so, the undergrowth they shielded will burn.

as she brands me with her stripes.

MAGGIE WANG reads History and Economics at Pembroke College.

Art by Izzy Fergusson.