I was looking at sites that publish short stories when I stumbled across this gem written by a Korean-American lady by the name of Yoon Ha Lee. YHL lives in Texas, and has become one of my new, favourite authors! Read on :
‘The pirate captain’s daughter had no name, although her mother’s land-born lovers, male and female, sometimes amused themselves thinking of names for her. Such strong hands, such a lithe frame, one might say, and suggest a name from an island known for its wrestlers. Another might admire the way her straight, dark hair was pulled back by pins with dragonflies on them, and name her after summer nights.
Once, a small woman, dark-skinned and improbably delicate, looked at her for an unnerving moment before suggesting that she be named after a certain type of two-handed sword that had not been forged for over three centuries. “You’ll grow tall like your mother,” she had said, “and like a fine sword you’ll wear leather stitched with bright thread.” The pirate’s daughter had liked that best of all.
But pirates upon the Unwritten Sea had traditions as surely as did their prey. No one traveled the Unwritten Sea save by poetry. For the little fisher-boats that never ventured far from shore, a scrap of chant handed down from parent to child might suffice. For the dhows and junks that ventured into the sea’s storms, cobwebbing the paths of trade between continents, more sophisticated poetry was required: epics in hexameter, verses structured around jagged caesuras; elegantly poised three-line poems with the placement of alliterating syllables strictly dictated. A poem would guide a ship only so far ahead and no farther, and one had to use a fitting poem for the weather, the currents, the tides, the color of light on the foam and the smell of the wind.
Lesser pirates might content themselves with smaller commodities: chests packed tight with baroque pearls and circlets of wire, rutilated quartz, and the bones of tiny birds, all cushioned with silk cut from the coats of hanged aristocrats; spices named after extinct animals, but no less potent for all that; oils pressed from the fruit of trees planted during meteor showers and comets’ passing.
Pirates of the highest tier, the ones whose names and exploits were discussed avidly even in inland cities like those of conquering generals and master calligraphers, raided poetry itself. To understand her trade, a pirate must be a poet herself, and could not take a name until she had scribed a poem in the language of her sea-yearning soul.
And so the pirate’s daughter had a problem. She didn’t want to leave the Unwritten Sea. Her mother had birthed her on this very ship, the Improbable Dragon, on a night when dragons blotted out the five moons with their battling, and their blood mottled the sea the color of bronze and copper. The sea’s dark waters had baptized her, staining the birthmark on her left forearm dark within dark, like a dragon-whelp curled within its storm-shell…
Meeka’s comment :
Not only is this an innovative, out-of-left-field kind of story, but the very prose in which it is written evokes the poetry at its core.
I’m not drawn to poetry, or literary work for its own sake, I just love beauty in all its forms, and this short story is beautiful. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.