“Archipelagic Constellations” by Nin Harris

They etched constellations on our skin to remind us of our origins
—not from this Archipelago, nor Funan nor Chenla.
Not these clearings where we felled trees to build
Burnished teakwood ships to navigate the stars.

These carved vehicles with their sakti-fueled appurtenances
Are wistful replacements of translucent pods jettisoning
      us as prisoners and tattooed exiles,
      pulling us from dark matter into
      this corporeal presence where we
      have lost for good our countries.

* * *

I etch constellations upon your skin to remind you that
  you are owned not by the archipelago, but by me;
not by my words but my body &
  by the heart I did not know was made for this.
This ownership is made manifest in every inhalation of each other’s breath,
An alliance of sorts for two governments in exile—
your human empire and the one I built for the people that you called the unseen ones;
The people of the Sound. The bunian. The phantoms of the forest.
The unholy ones who could never be blessed with the manna of paradise.

I learn your words. Words that turned me into an alien, a devil when you were scared.

My people. And me, your phantom alien lover that you scissor with sweaty human limbs—
you pinion my translucence beneath the friction of your hot body,
warming my neck with humid breath in a mark of possession—
your corporeality solidifies me, the heat of hunger fuels my passion
for the rub of fleshy torso against my lean translucence.

You gave me a name to give me voice , you removed my planetary vision with your dogmas.
A reminder that the constellations have rejected me—
that my people did not exist in your histories

You gave me a name to warn me I was dangerously close to being owned.

* * *

Every inking was a compact. A promise of a pardon. A reminder of the nebulas we left behind. A map to guide us home, but with no vessels to bring us there.
A gentler punishment than we deserved.

* * *

Words ignited by the negligent light
of a single non-sentient moon
could never be untainted by betrayal.

Our own perfidy brought us here
My own perfidy bought me your oath.
Your perfidy as you betrayed me required redress.
As the first vessels made beautiful by the carvings of your people were born aloft
I etched constellations on the tongues that I bid them rip off
None of them were as honeyed as yours.
I remembered the savour of your words even as we constructed
a kayangan to mimic what you boasted we would never gain;
a kayangan that entered the stories of your penglipur lara
immortalised in the hikayats that have forgotten both you and I
while floating palaces hover above the Empires
we have elected to protect.

Nin Harris is an author, poet, and postcolonial Gothic scholar who exists in a perpetual state of unheimlich. Nin writes Gothic fiction, cyberpunk, nerdcore post-apocalyptic fiction, planetary romance, and various other forms of hyphenated weird fiction. Nin’s publishing credits include Clarkesworld, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Strange Horizons, and The Dark.

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