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how prophecy was invented

where mist collapsed into a child’s abdomen

when there were too few patterns

where there was a warm body to bite into

when there were too many children to bear

where the river’s anger was ours to drink

when cleaving was softer than closure

where nobody shuddered at the beast’s grin

when our invitations were always to run

where our land had not split into squares

when we had never walked

where we pounded ourselves to shadows

when the cave closed its mouth

where i first lied that my palms were red

when there was no word for your plunder

because you thought your god could birth himself

when it did not rain for twelve days

where a stone came in place of the baby

when cries cascaded on the thirteenth

where blood burst upstream of the uterus

when you asked the gods for oil and a gift

where there was a body trying to live

when smoke rose no higher than the stake

where red was closer to blue than orange

when the wishbone spasmed on splitting

where my nightgown hung on the crucifix

when you mistook the birds for angels

where i had already found my home

when the wings we built were a covenant

where forgiveness was every girl’s synonym

when the need for air strangled into birdsong

where it spilled, gluttonous as water


Ziyi Yan (闫梓祎) is a Chinese writer. Her work is published in Poetry Northwest, Rust and Moth, Kissing Dynamite, and Peach Mag, among others. She is also the editor-in-chief of the Dawn Review. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter @Ziyiyan___ or visit her website at https://ziyiyan.carrd.co/