“The Seventh Brother” by Karolina Fedyk

His skin doesn’t remember nettles.
No memories of acid, no topography of scars.
His skin is a smooth border,
no front lines dividing swan and boy;
the fluff curls around his arm and gently intrudes into human territory.
Pale feathers next to the dark bristle of his hair.
Some people attempt to pry the only wing away.
They see not the elegance but sickness and phantom pains.
Others ask whether he misses the wind. Did he want to be human?
Or did he find his shape up there, a cutout from the sky?
No, he says, he only found wings that wouldn’t melt when kissed by the sun.
His wings would steal its brilliant light.
But, did he regret it? Did he ever think: why did she have to make seven shirts?
Fingers curl on his chest and dig in,
searching for grudges knotted around his heart.

He does not answer
because the questions are wrong.
What would you rather be?
is wrong.
He was himself for a while,
plummeting as nettles stung his skin,
not a bird. Not a man. Air rushed and swallowed the weight of names.
And then suddenly there was no choice, as if
you could only be a boy or a swan.

Sometimes he can see himself whole in other people’s eyes
and in their presence
relives that uncertain heartbeat
dividing his soaring from his fall.

Karolina Fedyk writes speculative fiction and poetry about lost histories, found families, and futures born out of resistance and resilience. In 2017 their poem “What Wants Us” was nominated for the Rhysling Award. Their work has been published in Strange Horizons, Metaphorosis and The Dark, among others. They enjoy knitting, LARP, and looking for owls and kestrels.

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