Bella Li is a Melbourne poet and editor. Her poems have appeared in journals such as Meanjin, Cordite and Otoliths.
Sullen days. The corsair moves mechanically on its hinges. Beneath our proscenium arch, wily ports ply their trade; measuring out the hours in skeletons and lampshades. The hold littered with props. Flat clouds drifting idly along the cardboard coast. (In the dawn they emerge, pale with grief.) I cannot remember biding time in the shallows with the air so steep. And the space behind the sun growing and growing, the stalls silent and empty on quiet nights. There were months when great shadows fell across the waves. And we moved, so it seemed, through lost oceans; past sunken islands from which the sounds of mourning stole. It is true that the flight was exhausting; my eyes reeked of distance. But when the blackness lifted, the horizon—beyond the dim circle of lights—remained featureless, unaltered. Now the shapes of our desires do not change but mimic, with each curtain fall, the appearance of a predictable set of stars. When evening transpires (at the appointed time, in the appointed place), the tide reverses; our loyal machines rise, assemble themselves across the deck. Wolf-like, sand-like. Waiting for that same, slow mirage: the familiar moon, hung from its lamprey sky. Swinging guilt.
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In the year of the Hegira 622, driven from the city and exiled, I arrived at the mountains of the . The journey was arduous. But I was “armed with the terrors of the sword”. And the movement of the heavenly bodies (the western side of the city entirely round) filled the sky. The city was entirely round; the inhabitants remarkable for their treachery. Concerning the treacherous mountains. Concerning the origin of the name “ ” (in the palace, there was a small ). Here the young prince—concealing his deformity with a veil—saw in the heavens the terrible rising. And “the phantom drew back his veil”. Massacred, according to custom, the vast number of the inhabitants. There followed “a grievous famine”. (In the eastern sky I saw the sun.) One morning, according to the vast number of oriental historians, the sun “a little after rising, completely lost its light”. To the great astonishment of the astronomers, this darkness (in the eastern palace persisting). Persisted until noon.