The Po’ouli

(listed as extinct in 2018)

 

Little black-headed song

bird, discovered

only recently—1973,

the year Secretariat won

the Triple Crown—so much

relentless muscle

 

racing a circle

while this cryptic bird

flitted up Haleakala’s

steep slope—moss-tangled,

dripping ferns—snapping up

snails and waxworms.

 

Now imagine this:

a last ditch effort,

venturing across

the volcanic crater

with padded boxes,

hoping to catch

 

the last three

specimens—perhaps

a breeding pair—

256 birds captured, but no

Po’ouli—fifteen years

later they would declare

 

the bird extinct—another

in a long line lost

to invasive species,

disease,

and habitat destruction.

The people who tried

 

to save this little bird

are immune

to despair—

they suspend

themselves

from ropes,

 

pollinate flowers

when the pollinators

have died—

they trek

the rainforest

playing calls

 

from long dead birds,

but you, little bandit,

refuse the call—

there is no hope

but we can’t help

ourselves,

 

we believe in miracles—

a songbird waiting

to be discovered.

Onions

“Men argue. Nature acts.”

—Voltaire

 

Palm trees wave their heavy heads,

canna lilies rise brilliant and bloody

in their beds, and the tide floods the streets.

They call it sunny day flooding, because it hasn’t rained

for weeks, and still the water comes.

I haven’t cried in weeks, and still—

 

I hear the polar caps are nearly free

of ice, that the sea will rise and don’t I know it?

My car founders in the flood.

I like to think this is the only thing stopping me

from finding you,

 

but that isn’t true.

The tide swept in and took you away. At least

 

that is what I say when people ask where you are.

I know it sounds like you’re dead, forgive me

if I find that easier.

I’ve tried to live consciously, nothing

without purpose, to do nothing

without consideration for the world

I inhabit.

 

Since you left, I’ve kept

all the lights on. Since you left,

I drive my car endlessly around the neighborhood.

I eat beef and candy, and I’m thinking

of having a pool put into the backyard, thinking

about buying an SUV.

 

The water burbles up through storm drains, seeps

into the roots of our garden, kills

our onions with salt. Which is okay, I guess,

since you planted them.

Podcast Episode 11: Babang Luksa

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Subscribe via RSS, Google Podcasts, Android, Stitcher, iHeartRadio or on iTunes!

Welcome back to the Reckoning Press podcast. It’s been ages, but we’re ramping up to a lot of cool new stuff in the coming year and beyond, including lots more podcasts, a fundraiser to increase payrates to 10c/word, $50/page for poetry and pay staff better too, t-shirts, pins, who knows what else. Homebrew recipes. Foraging instructions. Bespoke lectures about culling invasive species. We’re flush with ideas, as we should be, but we’re always looking for more. Drop us a line if you’ve got any?

Reckoning Press is a US-based nonprofit; we flourish under your regard. Please support us on Patreon, consider donating directly, buy a book or an ebook, read our contributors’ beautiful work for free online, and submit! We’re always open to submissions, we’re always excited in particular to read work from Black, brown, Indigenous, queer, disabled, trans, or otherwise marginalized poets, writers and artists.

You can find all this and more on our website at: reckoning.press/support-us. You can subscribe to this podcast on iTunes or by visiting reckoning.press/audio.

Thank you very much for listening.

Hi folks, it’s me again, your host, Michael J. DeLuca. I’m about to read you Nicasio Reed’s story from Reckoning 6, “Babang Luksa”. It is a beautiful, quiet, sad story about family and facing the real consequences of hard choices. I don’t think you will find your time with it ill-spent. It’s extremely evocative for me, as an Italian-American from a big family on the East Coast I don’t get to see very often. But I have great confidence in its broader applicability, because it’s impossible not to see the incredibly skillful hand with which Nico has sculpted these characters and sense that he’s looked them in the eye. And if you’re not having to make these kinds of choices already–well. Don’t let me jinx it. But it’s good to be prepared.

[Bio below.]

“Babang Luksa” by Nicasio Andres Reed

Dramatis Personae of the Apocalypse

i. The Artist

 

Agrees blood doesn’t make for the best paint,

but humans will use worse through history,

whelk dye and highly toxic cinnabar,

the mollusks mourning their mass murder,

the painters’ lungs shriveled with poison for eternity.

The artist immortalizes sunsets and war-zones.

They name each stone canvas imperial purple,

vermilion, carmine, crimson,

but the truth is, they’re just red.

Everyone is red.

 

ii. The Poet

 

Roams battlefields in search of personal effects

harvested from those dead or dying,

for tragedy births the best poems.

Dog tags, torn or scorched photographs,

hand-carved bone figurines of a serene woman

who might have been peace, personified.

The poet takes his razor-edged pen

and scratches palimpsests of history

across his heaving chest.

 

iii. The Scientist

 

Tries to detect water in the dacryphiliac desert.

She dowses through endless expanses of cracked earth,

holding on to the forked wishbone

of some long-extinct animal, carving spirals in the sand.

Her feet blister and her skin melts off in rivulets

before her fossilized rod palpitates.

An absinthe-green lake, a promised oasis.

The desert floor opens wide to swallow her,

the trilobites and arthropods welcoming her home.

 

iv. The Teacher

 

Fails to convince his students of his prophetic visions.

Long before the first local conspiracy theory

or worldwide panicked broadcast,

he drew chalk figures across the blackboard,

interpretations of death and destruction

like geoglyphs or paleolithic cave art.

The teacher begged his students and their families

to gather provisions and build underground bunkers,

to save themselves any way they could.

But even then, he was too late.

Their creator had already sealed their fate,

painted in red pigment across the walls.

Podcast Episode 10: Move, Mountain, Move

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Subscribe via RSS, Google Podcasts, Android, Stitcher, iHeartRadio or on iTunes!

Welcome back to the Reckoning Press podcast. It’s been ages, but we’re ramping up to a lot of cool new stuff in the coming year and beyond, including lots more podcasts, a fundraiser to increase payrates to 10c/word, $50/page for poetry and pay staff better too, t-shirts, pins, who knows what else. Homebrew recipes. Foraging instructions. Bespoke lectures about culling invasive species. We’re flush with ideas, as we should be, but we’re always looking for more. Drop us a line if you’ve got any?

Reckoning Press is a US-based nonprofit; we flourish under your regard. Please support us on Patreon, consider donating directly, buy a book or an ebook, read our contributors’ beautiful work for free online, and submit! We’re always open to submissions, we’re always excited in particular to read work from Black, brown, Indigenous, queer, disabled, trans, or otherwise marginalized poets, writers and artists.

You can find all this and more on our website at: reckoning.press/support-us. You can subscribe to this podcast on iTunes or by visiting reckoning.press/audio.

Thank you very much for listening.

Hi, everyone. My name is Catherine Rockwood, and today for the Reckoning Magazine Podcast, I’m going to be reading “Move, Mountain, Move” by the author Russell Nichols.

So, I’ll begin with some commentary on the poem and then tell you a little bit more about Russell Nichols and then read you the poem itself.

What affects me when I read this poem is its insistence that we can make something new and better—something external to, and common to, all of us—from our climate grief. And Russell Nichols has used old images, Biblical images, to show us how to imagine this something better. You’ll notice there’s a mention of mustard seeds in the poem, confirming its close literary relationship with the Book of Matthew chapter 17:20, where Jesus says to his disciples “If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.”

A mustard seed is proverbially tiny, and yet the plant that emerges from the seed is tall—so through this simile we understand, both in the Bible and in Nichols’s poem, that if you have even a little bit of germinal matter to start with, you can turn it into something very meaningful and expansive indeed. In the Bible, the germinal matter is faith; in Nichols’s poem, it is grief. We must start there, he argues, but we do not end there. If you’re a Reckoning reader and subscriber, you probably agree.

When Nichols writes, “there is no relief/ without release,” I think of how often the speaker (or singer) of the Psalms mentions weeping, and the necessity of weeping, in times of trouble. As the King James version of Psalm 6:6 has it: “I am weary with my groaning; all the night make I my bed to swim; I water my couch with my tears.” And this is how we communicate our grief and make it manifest—but in Nichols’s poem, it is also how we build.

Here is a little more about the author.

[Bio below.]

Russell Nichols, “Move, Mountain, Move”

Wildfire, Hellfire: the Case for Siberian Globeflowers

and

I.

 

My home was on fire.

Wildfires came with vengeance in late July, engulfed the forest and turned it to cinders.

It is a place with a long memory: centenarian pines reached to the skies, mantled the mountain’s spine like a rustling shroud, deep-green, dark-green, emerald-green. In winter, they covered themselves with sparkling white, thick and noble. It was a home: for foresters, for lynxes, for bears, for me, for globeflowers. The globeflowers: they glowed like gems, little lights in the malachite of lush greenery. In bloom, they turned into a sea, mirroring the scorching copper sun.

We call Siberian globeflowers zharki. “Little fires”.

We say that taiga sings. The choir of the trees is not a hymn nor a dirge; it’s a lullaby, and with it, a memory. This is where loneliness ends. For generations of exiles and vagabonds, nomads and runaways; for me. You can go to the past and gather this memory like seashells, fragment by fragment, if you simply walk south along the Yenisei river, past Sayan Mountains, past Venuses of Mal’ta, then circling back north. There you will find their (our)—our (my)—my loneliness buried.

Now, all that is left are ashes, remnants of what once was beautiful.

According to the Aerial Forest Protection Service, on August 20, 2019, eighty-five forest fires ran amok in Russia, particularly in Siberia and the Far East.1 The largest area ablaze was Krasnoyarsk Krai, my home region; there were fifty-three centers of ignition.

Three days earlier the number was one hundred and twelve. A month before, it was one hundred and twenty-six.

At the end of July, the fires were still largely ignored, because, as the authorities put it, “There is no threat to settlements and objects of the economy, and the predicted cost of extinguishing fires exceeds the predicted damage caused by them”, even though the combusting area was approaching three million hectares.

A significant part of the burning land was in so-called ‘control zones’—remote areas deemed uninhabited. In 2015, a law was passed establishing the right of regional authorities to determine firefighting in these territories economically inexpedient. This formally legalized the practice that historically developed from regional poverty—there was no money, no fuel, no planes to land firefighters in remote territories. In Soviet times, many fires were not extinguished—there was no satellite monitoring, and no one counted them.

The regional officials refused to extinguish fires, but they were not the only ones to blame. Federal funding for forest protection is calculated based on the acreage of areas marked for conservation, excluding control zones. Expected costs in control zones, in the logic of the authorities, are always higher than the damage done. Damage is measured at the minimum value of the wood, if it were to be cut and processed for lumber (and if that process is considered economically infeasible, there is no damage). The region must either spend its own funds to put out fires in control zones or do nothing.

 

My home was on fire, and they said fire cost nothing.

 

So the governors are officially entitled to refuse to extinguish wildfires if it’s not economically profitable. The head of the Federal Forestry Agency explained it this way: “See for yourself: the closest tanker plane’s base point is 500 kilometers from the fire in the taiga. It flies back and forth, dumps a small amount of water. We’ll go bankrupt using aviation for such purposes”. The Krasnoyarsk Krai governor said: It’s a common natural phenomenon which is pointless, and perhaps even harmful, to fight. “If we have a snowstorm in winter, it doesn’t occur to anyone to melt the icebergs to make the weather warmer.”

I watch the forest burn—full of horror and rage, and something sharper and more terrible: loss.

My home was on fire, and they said it was economically unprofitable to save it.

 

 

 

Siberian Wildfires

Daria Kholyavka

II.

 

The truth is: the control zones are not as deserted as they’re trying to assure us— there are settlements on their borders, roads and developed logging forests. Wildfires roared in a twenty-kilometer radius near the nine settlements in Evenkia. The closest fire to the village of Kuyumba burned five kilometers away; ashes fell on the courtyards, breathing was a struggle, and at two or three hundred meters nothing was visible.

It is impossible to estimate how many animals have died in the fire. Residents of the northern territories saw animals on the roads, driven away from the taiga, more and more. They came to settlements. For several days, a bear lived in one of the villages after running away from the burning boondocks.

 

The flaming sea of globeflowers, “little fires”, now was a hellfire circle.

Smoke overtook several neighboring territories at once. Unlike the usual sequence, when smoke goes north, that year it turned west, to the more populated parts of the country. Sunday morning, July 21, when Novosibirsk was overtaken by smog, the radio broadcasted: nothing to worry about; it is not smoke, but mist.

People were suffocating, and the first motion was to say that everything was fine.

NASA published a photo showing a smoke plume spreading over the Krasnoyarsk Krai. A significant part of Siberia and the Ural cities were under a dense, cindered veil.

The extent to which forest fires affect human health is still poorly understood, with the exception that products of combustion can settle in the lungs and contribute to the development of asthma and allergies. The air in Novosibirsk was certainly damaging: the maximum permissible concentration of suspended particles per million was exceeded by 1.5 times.2 People complained of the acrid taste of smog. There were noticeably fewer insects, since the aerosol curtain created by smoke blocked the functioning of the midge’s nervous and respiratory systems.3 The number of ambulance calls due to smoke increased by over 15%.4 Cinders can lead to an increase in mortality from chronic respiratory diseases, an increase in mortality among the elderly, and an increase in miscarriages. But it’s impossible to attach these deaths to a specific fire, and it’s impossible to get any insurance or compensation.

People were suffocating and there was no one to blame.

 

III.

 

Why did fires occur?

Officially, the fires were explained by abnormal weather: high temperature in the absence of rains, dry thunderstorms, short snow cover in winter. They talked about thirty-degree heat and lightning strikes.

But Russian WWF, on the contrary, claimed that in 95% of cases, forest fires are anthropogenic.5 From natural causes—lightning or abnormal heat—conflagrations rarely appear.

Most of the fires are man-made; they occurred mainly as a result of forest felling, because of the burning of logging residues. Often, people deliberately light fires to get rid of old, dry grass. Bonfires and cigarette butts can also contribute. It’s a small contribution, but a contribution nonetheless; one more zharok on the funeral pyre.

These small fires could definitely have been put out right away, but the local authorities refused to, leading to the large outbreaks, which turned into an unsolvable problem: all we could do was wait for the rain. The situation got out of control precisely because it was decided not to extinguish the fires while they were small. Officials tried to attribute everything to nature, because it was convenient to look for an excuse in the elements, in processes that we cannot control.

My home was on fire, and it was impossible to save it.

 

IV.

 

What for the future?

According to Greenpeace, by the beginning of August 2019, fires in Siberia reached record levels in the entire history of observation, since 2001: in acreage of burning area, burnt woodland, and the amount of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere.6 Each year, on average, three times more forest dies in fires than the forestry industry processes. Forest resources are already scarce—because of fires and because of logging—and it will only grow worse.

The unusually powerful and rapid spread of fires is connected to the environmental situation. Climate change leads to more extreme weather events: somewhere it rains for a long time, somewhere, on the contrary, severe droughts occur, leading to wildfires. In Russia, the Irkutsk region faced both in 2019: at the beginning of summer, the flood, then—savage forest fires.

Wildfires happen in nature. Each ecosystem has its disturbance regime. For pinewood, fires occur once every 50-100 years as part of normal forest dynamics. Some areas burn out, and new ecological communities hatch upon them, while protected areas remain in good condition. The pine has thick bark, and it’s quite resistant to fires. In burned areas, windthrows wrest out dead roots, exposing new soil—and plants that cannot germinate in dense underlay sprout here. On this mineralized surface, they can thrive. This process contributes to the normal functioning of large ecological systems.

When industrialized humans intervene in this system, instead of igniting once every 100 years, the forest combusts once every two or three years, and in some places even more often. And the climate imbalance means minimal foci of ignition lead to much greater consequences. A technogenic wildfire is not a fire that renews the ecosystem—but one that degrades and in places even eliminates it. Zharki will grow here no longer.

Climate change is merciless, and it prisons us all.

 

V.

 

It’s been more than a year since wildfires came. Many forests over the world experienced the same loss and sorrow and ire.

The fire came with a vengeance, not just for wood, but for us, with grief and resentment, so sharp and full of contempt.

The fires come from tradition, ignorance, insufficient funding, thoughtless legislation. From illegal logging, littering, a carefree attitude to nature. From poor communication. And most of all: from an unwillingness to see the problem as a problem until it knocks on the door with lurid fists.

The fire comes from corporations that turn the atmosphere into a greenhouse. They cut down trees, strip off their bark, flay, manufacture, grind, kiln, soak, compress, make paper and write on it about the terrible state of the forests.

The fires come from us. Because we burn logging residues, because we leave bonfires, because we throw cigarette butts, and because we refuse to extinguish what can be extinguished. All this—in conditions of heat, of drought and strong wind —grows more extreme and more dangerous.

The fire comes from officials, from the government; from the comforting thought that fighting natural phenomena is pointless (and perhaps even harmful). From our failure to consider nature as a fundamentally essential resource, rather than as something that can be priced and sold.

Taiga, somehow, forgave us so much. It forgave us Gulags, and katorga, and Decembrists, and hidden bones, and taking and taking and taking and never taking enough. I wonder if it forgives being neglected.

We say that taiga sings. The choir of the trees is not a hymn nor a dirge; it’s a lullaby, and with it, a memory.

Now my home is on fire; we cannot redeem it.

Notes

1. https://aviales.ru/popup.aspx?news=5549 (English machine translation)

2. https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/4032981 (English machine translation)

3. https://ngs.ru/text/summer/2019/07/26/66174625/ (English machine translation)

4. https://ecfor.ru/publication/lesnoj-pozhar-sibir-ekonomika/ (English machine translation)

5. https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/4046333#id1776662 (English machine translation)

6. https://greenpeace.ru/blogs/2019/08/05/lesnye-pozhary-v-sibiri-jeto-klimaticheskij-krizis/ (English machine translation)

Podcast Episode 9: Gills

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Subscribe via RSS, Google Podcasts, Android, Stitcher, iHeartRadio or on iTunes!

Welcome back to the Reckoning Press podcast. It’s been ages, but we’re ramping up to a lot of cool new stuff in the coming year and beyond, including lots more podcasts, a fundraiser to increase payrates to 10c/word, $50/page for poetry and pay staff better too, t-shirts, pins, who knows what else. Homebrew recipes. Foraging instructions. Bespoke lectures about culling invasive species. We’re flush with ideas, as we should be, but we’re always looking for more. Drop us a line if you’ve got any?

Reckoning Press is a US-based nonprofit; we flourish under your regard. Please support us on Patreon, consider donating directly, buy a book or an ebook, read our contributors’ beautiful work for free online, and submit! We’re always open to submissions, we’re always excited in particular to read work from Black, brown, Indigenous, queer, disabled, trans, or otherwise marginalized poets, writers and artists.

You can find all this and more on our website at: reckoning.press/support-us. You can subscribe to this podcast on iTunes or by visiting reckoning.press/audio.

Thank you very much for listening.

Hey, it’s me, your sometime host, Michael J. DeLuca. I’m going to read you a short story, “Gills” by Nicholas Clute, from Reckoning 6. If you’d like to read along with me, you can, it’s free online at reckoning.press/gills. The author’s extremely succinct bio goes like this.

[Bio below.]

First I’m going to tell you a little about why I love this story. In it, you will meet two brothers, Allas and Young. Their relationship, the bickering, loving, supportive, competitive relatability of it, is what drew me through from beginning to end. I’ve got younger sisters who I desperately want to make it through this crisis, and the next one, and the one after that. Whenever I get to the end of a submission and find myself surprised it went so quickly, that’s a pretty good sign I’m going to want to publish it. This was like that. It’s 4,200 words and it felt like half that. We all thought it worked particularly well juxtaposed with Nicasio Reed’s story “Babang Luksa”, which is also about family amid risen seas and I encourage you to check out.

The other thing about “Gills” is the surreality, for which I am a sucker. This is a post-collapse future that’s just weird enough I can inhabit it without dragging along all the dread and anticipatory grief and guilt I’ll be bringing with me to the real future. And it’s such a relief!

Here’s hoping it does the same for you.

“Gills” by Nicholas Clute

The Loss of the Moon

I saw the moon come down.

I was driving that old stretch

Between home and late night,

Not another car on the road,

The moon the only real light

In a sky pitted with enough clouds

To chase off most stars. The moon

Made enough of a hole to lick

The dark itself. But then

The moon started to come down.

As if inch by inch, though

That seemed but an optical illusion

Given my angle and distance. I watched

It sliding lower, eyes darting back

To the ever-darkening road often enough

That I could drive without slowing,

My wife expecting me home on time.

Finally, it was out of sight, lost

In the trees. I did not actually see

It crash, nor did I feel

Earthquake or rumble, collision

Or fevered merge. The conclusion

Was simply the dark sky, the darker

Road, and I thought the tides,

The tides.

Podcast Episode 8: water-logged roots

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Hi everyone, my name is Catherine Rockwood and today on the Reckoning Magazine Podcast, I’ll be reading “water-logged roots” by Cislyn Smith, which is a poem that’s featured in Reckoning 6.

We want to start a practice on the podcast of talking a little bit about what we loved about the pieces that are in the magazine. And so I’m just going to say a little bit about what particularly draws me to “water-logged roots” as a poem and how I see it applying to climate justice, which is our theme as a publication. When I first read “water-logged roots” when it came through in the submissions, one of the first things I was struck by is how skillfully it uses visual images of a world turned upside-down and then sort of enchants the images so they become part of a knowledge-gathering dialogue. And this is a dialogue with the dryad in the poem, which is just, like, it’s so wonderful! But this dialogue really moves the narrator from the place where she first stands, outside her family home in the aftermath of a hurricane, to a place where she can imagine taking a next step that doesn’t leave her as stuck in where she is and what she’s doing. And it’s not a decision without cost, but it’s an extremely pivotal moment and an adaptive moment. So again, personally speaking I loved the way Cislyn’s poem took an image of climate destruction and began to think about it in very compelling adaptive ways, tying all this to extremely striking imagery.

So here we go. We’ll start with Cislyn’s biography.

(Bio below.)

“water-logged roots” by Cislyn Smith

Somnambulist

For generations, the kanoa drifted in the dark.

Orocobix slumbered within, watching, waiting. The craft jostled as the gravitic maw of the nightsea gripped its calcite hull. Clutched by dark currents, it plunged, bound for a turquoise sphere that shimmered like an island in the oceanic void. The kanoa trembled as it bore through a fiery membrane of sky, amid spooling carmine clouds. As its bony shell withered in the infernal crucible, the living vessel screeched in agony.

Sharing its pain, Orocobix awakened. The little coral polyps that were the kanoa, the beings that served as caretakers for Orocobix’s slumbering body, were dying. Their bony carapaces sloughed into the firmament as the craft plummeted toward a marbled landscape of brown decay and green perseverance. Orocobix bid the polyps a grateful farewell before detaching their body from the corals’ vitreous tethers. After centuries of sleep, Orocobix was ready to shed the comfort of the kanoa and walk among the undreaming.

Orocobix leapt into the sky, recalling previous lives, when they had been others who dived into azure waters from leafy mountain perches to spear wriggling fish or to catch a ricocheting, resin ball amid a batey court of sculpted monoliths. To slow their approach, Orocobix opened their feathered arms, harvesting the energy of the wind column. Below, a colossal wreck peered over an arid landscape. Amid tawny, xeric jags, a cylindrical machina jutted toward the heavens. Clumps of neon-pink moss sought to slow the advance of its synthetic corruption, but their efforts were futile. The pink flora was retreating as steel tentacles reticulated out into the land, staining the soil gray with their deepening incursion.

Orocobix steered their body to line up with the lofty rim of the great cylinder, catching in their peripheral vision the last of the kanoa sputtering into a plume of gold-blue flame. They decelerated, scarlet tail plumes scattering as two pairs of fibrous wing-arms unspooled from their back. The appendages, a weft of living yuca roots tightly braided to soak up air, stabilized their descent to the machina below, but the air was foul with caustics from its foul industry. Their netted wings were swiftly dissolving in the corrosive currents. Orocobix elongated their body, lunging their taloned feet to catch the charred sill of the cylindrical engine just as their wings gave out. They perched atop the machina, peering down to the darkened bottom, where their quarry, a fell engine, hummed and pulsed in bright viridian bursts.

With their wings destroyed, Orocobix had to find another way down to the base of the wreck.

“Nasa,” Orocobix commanded, their voice a guttural song, between bird and human.

From a cotton pouch woven on their reed sash, they tossed a dozen soapstones into the chasm below, watching the glinting missiles transmute into the slick, amber bodies of tiny tree frogs. The cokís sung as they leapt in tandem below, trailing a resinous skein in their wake. When they reached the bottom of the wreck, their pitched cries suddenly went silent as their bodies gave way to lithe cassava roots that spiraled up along the resin track to the rim of the engine where Orocobix waited patiently.

Just as Orocobix positioned themselves to rappel down the cassava latticework to the reactor below, their human ears discerned something approaching from the wreck. The metallic droning that permeated the wreck was unmistakable; the voracious ones, the island-eaters, had come.

Orocobix unsheathed a spicate macana from the coral scabbard fused to their back.

The Astrals encircled, a trio of floating, rust-iron husks, jagged proboscises oozing beneath smoldering glass eyes. Orocobix delved deep into the ancestral wisdom, recounting ancient battles with rival Caribs, plumbing the memories for tactics, but the Astrals moved too quickly. There was no time to consult the matriline for strategy. Orocobix struck first, their flowing scarlet tail-capes cascading in sinuous, feathery flourishes as the ribbed macana met decaying steel.

The first of the trio fell readily in a burst of white sparks and splintered metal. The second darted away, but Orocobix tracked it. They spun their body swiftly to pierce its beaming eye, making sure to shatter the glass that encased its simulacrum of sentience. Orocobix then turned to face their final foe, and the bobbing drone lunged its proboscis at Orocobix’s sternum, between their breasts, nearly piercing their vulnerable human heart. Orocobix parried, but they over-extended, and the macana flew into the sky before tumbling down into the heart of the wreck.

Orocobix was unarmed.

The Astral approached, and Orocobix imagined that it hungered so greatly that it felt pain. But Orocobix knew better than to regard the Astrals as anything but mirages of the living, an amalgam of many lost tribes; the Siyno’USAh, the Ruso-EU, the undreaming machina they worshipped and even the Iber who sieged Orocobix’s little island in the cerulean. They were island-eaters.

Orocobix struck again. With one arm they grabbed the slithering proboscis, and with the other, they pried at the seams of the Astral’s spherical dome. Orocobix pulled with the strength of their ancestors, ripping the fell beast into many pieces, until its glass eye was freed.

It fell and cracked before going dim.

Orocobix glimpsed their reflection in the inert glass sphere. Atop their head rested a crescent-shaped carapace, the smiling face of Guayaba, ruler of the realm beyond death, hewn in red-clay. Living roots of yuca fell in gnarled braids below their waist as the hair of their human ancestors had in Jatibonicu. In the deep sockets of the ochre mask, Orocobix’s eyes fumed in hues of burnished amber, their black pupils shaped like slivered moons. Whereas the caciques had faces that terminated in rounded jaws and brown lips, the gold beak of an Inrirí jutted from the chin of Orocobix. Their body gleamed in a riot of color as they surveyed the wreck for other foes. Sweat poured down their neck, where a crimson-gold uanine amulet rested between scaly breasts. Orocobix repositioned their living headdress, drawing what sustenance they could from the pallid sun that lurked behind the chemical-doused clouds.

Just as Orocobix could feel the plant part of themselves making food from the sun, an Astral impaled their abdomen, its wriggling proboscis boring through flesh and sinew.

Orocobix roared with pain, whirling around to crush the Astral with the cracked eye that it had mistakenly thought destroyed. Even as the creature burst into flame and went still, Orocobix knew that it was too late. The Astral had fulfilled its purpose, and Orocobix had little time to spare to complete their errand.

Orocobix could feel venom seeping into their blood. While they slept, the Astrals had spread across sky and sea and land, corroding all that they touched until nothing lived in the universe without knowing the shadow of their decay. Like the Yurakans of old, they raged and swelled in a mighty cyclone that grew as it consumed. Unlike the deity-storms, however, whose calamitous ire gave way to righteous flourishing, the Astrals brought no renewal to the archipelagoes of the nightsea that they decimated. Orocobix cawed in agony, not at the unbearable sensation of death creeping into their body, but at the prospect of failure. For Orocobix now bore the weight of a civilization. They were the whole of the island of Borikén made flesh. Failure meant extinction.

But they had survived extinction before. They could survive it again.

The cassava net, like the ancient nasa used to trap fish in shallow waters, held the weight of Orocobix with ease as they nimbly strafed from lattice to lattice down the chasm. Pain slowed their descent into the derelict abyss. The cavernous dark of the machina did not trouble Orocobix, the plankton fused with their skin emitting a cobalt phosphorescence that rendered much of the expanse below visible. Instead, they found themselves haunted by a double-presence in their thoughts, an alien Other attempting to take hold. Orocobix’s limbs loosened, an enervation brought on by the toxin.

It was not long before Orocobix slipped, crashing in a burst of feathers and blood on the rusted jags at the bottom of the machinic wreck.

Orocobix drifted between planes, aware faintly of the hum of the reactor just meters away from their mangled body. A specter appeared. It took the shape of the first chief of the Iber to arrive on Borikén. The Colón, it called itself. Its pale skin was the hue of bone and its face was matted with black fur. It probed Orocobix’s mind, desperate to learn how Orocobix had evaded the Astrals for all these centuries. It sifted through the ancestral rivers. It prodded their memories, attempting to excavate the lost history of how the beings they called Taíno were not extinct as their machina-shamans had said.

Orocobix did not bother to resist the invader, but gave it what it wanted: A memory from then, the before, on the island of Borikén; a painted chief on the lush slopes of Lukiyó immolating himself, burning to ash the accumulated heirlooms of his fore-mothers and their brothers, burning the birds, and the corals, and the fish, and the cassava, and all that lived on the island of Borikén. The onlookers, the first victims of the Ibers’ blight, had collected up the ashes and stowed the remains of their leader in a calabash. They waited for the whirling Yurakan to come, beseeching it to carry the traces of Borikén into the turey beyond the sky. For many generations, the ashes drifted the nightsea, before metamorphosing into Orocobix, who then slept, waiting in the kanoa for the Iber who became Astrals to weaken.

And now Orocobix had awakened to sow Borikén anew in the sidereal archipelagos beyond the Ibers’ wrecked Terra.

The Colón kept plumbing deeper into Orocobix, seeking the hidden knowledge of ancestors, but Orocobix denied the Colón. They drank a vial of the Mabí, their only defense against the blight that was assimilating them thought by tremulous thought.

Having momentarily silenced the Colón and numbed the pain of their broken limbs, Orocobix stood to full height. Before them, the reactor churned, its viridian beacon lancing into the clotted sky. With each pulse of its fell light, the unworlding engine sapped the island’s vibrancy, assimilating all fugitive traces of life that resisted, snuffing out all the dreams of pink moss that sought to blanket their world in soft lush.

Orocobix limped forward, faintly aware of movement in their peripherals, even as blood oozed from their head. The Colón, now severed from their mind, had summoned the last of its Astrals to subdue Orocobix. The shambling figures, obscured in the dark, resembled the jellyfish that once bobbed in Yocahu’s tides. Orocobix reached for an object stowed away in a satchel of leaves on its waist.

The Astrals encircled Orocobix, their pulsing eyes emitting light erratically as they unsheathed their glittering tentacles, preparing to strike and devour the last of the Borikén.

Orocobix opened a folded flamboyan leaf. Within slept a cemí, a crescent of ochre stone. Through their entanglement with the Astral consciousness, Orocobix learned that Iber had once excavated a number of cemí, regarding them as inert stones fashioned in the likeness of false deities. Their true purpose had eluded the Iber and their Astral successors.

Orocobix tossed the cemí hewn with the smiling face of Guayaba into the reactor just as the metallic arachnids began to impale their body.

The blight coursed through Orocobix as it had their ancestors on Borikén, erasing their memories, replacing their limbs with iron nodes, their living cells with silicon micro-processors—but none of it mattered. The reactor quaked, and from the cemí sprouted the many emerald shoots of a Cojóbana tree in a radial arc that pirouetted upward, engulfing and dismembering Orocobix and the spindly Astrals as it leapt up toward the sun. The Cojóbana sprouted, carrying the remains of Orocobix with it, interring them in a living cocoon of bough and leaf, where they flourished, between dreaming and wakefulness, a Somnambulist.

The Cojóbana that was also Orocobix dreamt of Borikén, sowing their memory-vision into the calamitous flesh of the planet at the edge of the nightsea until, at last, Borikén was remade.