Kytgy and Kunlelo by Rose Lemberg

Scheherezade's Bequest 14

Kytgy and Kunlelo
by Rose Lemberg

Ancestors fill
all things. In the green-moss stones
the ancestors of riverdark live,
in the rivers — star-mothers,
in deer flesh — unborn children.

Kytgy, the little girl, sits
on the green-moss stones,
she smells roe in the riverwind,
reindeer in the tundra-wind,
blubber smell coming from the sea-people–
she doesn’t want to smell war.

“Forefathers — small
spirit-fires, mosquito swarm,
teach me to see
in the five worlds,
the five-times five worlds,
so I too can become
mousebreath — so I can
squeeze between worlds,
above us, below us,
so I can
hunt war.”

The ancestors teach her,

“It’s the same country,
this reindeer country
moss country, fast-flowering tundra country
everywhere, we ancestors
live in deerhide yarangas
above us, sun and moon live
in deerhide yarangas;
below, kele-spirits,
in deerhide yarangas;
and in this world, you,
wear this parka of stitched spirits
when you go to hunt war:
the war is nearing.”

Kytgy, the little girl, sits
on the green-moss stones.
She smells blood in the riverwind
bitter tears in the tundra-wind.
How will she defeat war?

Kytgy goes
stitched spirits buzzing,
to her father’s yaranga.

A spirit-hearted child she summons.
a spirit-hearted warrior is needed.

“Father, father, go you visit kin!
we need to birth Kunlelo.”

Kytgy’s father goes to summer-camp,
sable-parka shaking,
eyes crossed, mighty hunter,
beaded parka shaking.
Of all women
he doesn’t want to choose
embroidered women
in their kerker suits,
berry-sweet women
in their hunting furs.

“Give me that one, the one with matted hair,
fishbones for beads,
lice for ornament,
that one, the crooked-eye orphan
who sits close to the smoke,
away from the entrance.”

They comb out the orphan,
pop the lice with their fingernails,
make her bride
for Kytgy’s father,
that mighty shaman-child’s father.

Nine months Kytgy waits
talking to eider children,
lemming pups, wild children,

all the in-between children.

“No need,” they say,
to squeeze between worlds now,
Kytgy, you mighty shaman:
ancestor-work is coming,
war is coming here.”

The babe, boy-child, Kytgy holds in her arms.

“Now the world comes right.
Now we have birthed Kunlelo.”

Kunlelo goes,
mighty warrior, to fasten war,
to protect his land
from the white-smoke people,
to take blubber
from the walrus people,
to take elk-land
from the antlered people,
to take berry-land
from the pinecone people,
to protect his land
from the white-skin people.

How will the world come right now?
None can defeat Kunlelo.

Kytgy takes off
her parka of spirits,
puts on her best furs, embroidered furs,
bride furs, blood-bride furs,
follows the sea-wind to the walrus people
lies down in the ditch by the sealskin yaranga,
waits for the men to marry her,
that berry-bright sister, Kytgy,
to marry her there in the ditch.

Nine months — she gives birth,
leaves her child with the sealskin people,
to raise her child with the blubber people.

She walks
the world, fleeing from enemies,
goes to the antlered people, elk people,
pinecone people, deer people,
wind people, star people,
white-smoke people,
white-skin people,

Wherever she goes, she marries,
wherever she goes, she gives birth,
wherever she goes, she leaves children.

Kytgy, peace-bringer,
from whom the whole world descends,
Kytgy, peace-bringer,
became the ancestor in all things.

Rose Lemberg is an immigrant from three countries. She currently works as a professor of Nostalgic and Marginal Studies somewhere in the Midwest. Rose’s short fiction has appeared in Strange Horizons, Fantasy Magazine, and other venues, and was recently reprinted in People of the Book: A decade of Jewish Science Fiction and Fantasy. Her poetry has appeared in Apex, Goblin Fruit, GUD, Jabberwocky, and Mythic Delirium, among other venues, and has been nominated for the Rhysling Award. She edits Stone Telling, a new magazine of boundary-crossing poetry. Rose can be found online at