After the Mistress of the Copper Mountain

by Rose Lemberg


                         for Shweta Narayan

Walked here from the factory, from the tired-face smell,
on your mountain I lay me down, where the stone is grass
and I in my threadbare dress - will you show me my father's vision,
chambers under this rock, singing with malachite flowers?
Will you teach me mastery of the blooming green stone,
lead me down the road the stone bird sang - or shall I turn
barefoot to the village of my birth - or will you give me gifts,
eyes of serpentine and agate-graying hair,
fingers deft at my father's tools, and a locked mouth,
and a casket with combs and rings of malachite?
Shall I be the stone-carver bent over my bench
and the green-eyed maiden singing the green thread,
or shall I become with you a lizard of striped stone,
serf to no-one, nurturing only stone?
Love, unfree me from this desire to make
and I will be yours when you coil around my wrist,
I will dress in veined green and in blossoming rock,
I will carve only silence to coil around my wrist.
I will not yearn for spring meadows when I am with you,
I will make nothing, and have no worth to you.
But if I am a maker, I would walk the beetle-buzzing world,
I will listen to the growing spring forest and I will sing dew,
and I will be a serf to a careless lord;
he will take my casket and give me nothing but grief,
and order me to carve him a malachite flower.
I will wander your mountain until I find a rock
set there by your hand, and carve with my eyes bleeding
a flower of such beauty that bees will come abuzz
and the noble lord, with nothing but his sly words.
He will gamble my flower away in a foreign land
where they will hide it in a rich man's coffer,
and I will be married to a back-bent serf
and bear him nine children year after year.
And if any of the people come to see my work,
they will say my husband made it or else my father,
or else the Mistress herself has given me a gift
of what her craftsmen made, imprisoned under the mountain.
I will die a bitter woman in my faded green dress,
I will die of consumption aged barely thirty.
So which will it be, love? Tell me if to make
and live a serf, or a lizard underneath this rock
in the chambers of malachite, following your shadow.


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Rose Lemberg's prose and poetry have appeared in Strange Horizons, Apex, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Unlikely Story, Interfictions, and other venues. She edits Stone Telling with Shweta Narayan, and is currently editing her first anthology of fiction-like things, An Alphabet of Embers. Rose can be found at roselemberg.net, and on twitter as @roselemberg

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