Poetry: “Plucked from the Horo”

This poem first appeared in Mythic Delirium 27, 2012.


Plucked from the Horo

                                  for Brittany Warman

When I turned six, they dressed me in pants for the first time. The young men
wove their fingers over mine, gave me
a small axe with a shell-inlaid handle. But they put all the other
girls in skirts, and braided their locks
with daisies, with ribbons. I also asked
for a ribbon, or a small red thread,
I asked for a single flower, even for a wild poppy
from underneath the  fence by the chicken coup, by the carrots,
a flower as joyful as morning, as wild as a draught
from the river’s glittering garment –
They cut my hair.
I remember how the sunlight
crowned my shorn head in a garland of sunblossoms,
gold-petaled over gold – but they didn’t see it, and they laughed,
and they wouldn’t let me learn weaving.

When I turned sixteen, I asked to dance the horo
with the village maidens, but they told me to step aside,
they mocked my embroidered long shirt with all its crooked stitch
I had made in the dark, with green snakes and green flowers
on grandmother’s faded homespun. And they wouldn’t
join hands with me, they refused
the sweet maidens, to call me sister-
though my cheeks were as smooth as theirs; and they laughed,
and  told me to dance in darkness.

Around and around the square I spun darkness where the brambles tore
at the green thread, unraveled the stitches and the blood
into the clot-music, the choke-music, so I did not hear
when you came.

Oh, the gold and the green, the blossoming girdle of your scales,
the tambourine of you above me –
but they call you the serpent of sickness,
say you snatch maidens from the horo,
return them sorrow-poisoned
to wither by their windows till skin goes grey,
till they slash their wrists on sickles, or drown
in the slow-lapping lake, in the bloated grey water.

But oh, all the gold and the green the circle of your scales,
so tight your embrace, burning away my false skin,
my false flesh, scalding, sloughing off all what I never wanted.
Oh, return me never, you flowering gold snake of the hidden sun,
with your breath tight within me so I can live at last,
for in you I too am wild scales and burnt gold,
the autumn-leaf sickness
that twines around you, away

over the serpents of the mountains,  beyond any man’s gaze, away
into the mating-knot of the sun,

until you return me never
The dragon, or serpent (zmej) appears as a lover in Bulgarian folk songs, but his love is usually a synonym for depression or melancholy. The dragon’s bride is a loner, the kind of girl who does not braid her hair or socialize with other girls. The zmej is often depicted snatching maidens from the circle dance.

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R.B. Lemberg is a queer, bigender immigrant from Eastern Europe and Israel. Their work has appeared in Lightspeed, Strange Horizons, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Unlikely Story, Uncanny, and other venues, and has been a finalist for the Nebula, Crawford, and other awards.

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