Illustration: birdbath photo digitally manipulated to resemble multi-colored abstract flowers held in place by tight screening

Tongue Work

Soft flesh too sensitive
to temperature clocks in
when you wake.
Like sand or water
in a winding cave that quakes
when its entrance’s seal unseals
and allows the mind’s echoes free
but not always freed.
They force the sealĀ and drop ropes
lined with thorns and their own roses
dipped in colours only they accept
and replace your echoes with theirs.
They laugh at your silence
while sitting on thorns like nothing.
They watch your cave bleed,
giving you no choice but to leave.
But to leave is more dangerous
than staying, working, twisting
the soft flesh like moulding clay
into a shape that only they want to see.

Ai Jiang is a Chinese-Canadian writer and an immigrant from Fujian. She draws on cultures and landscapes of the lands she has walked for inspiration. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Dark, Prairie Fire, Hobart Pulp, The Dread Machine, among others. Find her on Twitter (@AiJiang_) and online (

Illustration by C.B. Auder.

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