Charlie

They used to barrel out of the damp
and night, black and hazard orange,
fleeing uncaring tropical rain
for steady lights. My brother smashed one,
once

and only once. The blisters burned
two whole weeks. But in that time
he kept his hands to himself, nursing
his tender hurts, instead of causing mine.

Now he is a man, but I remember still
the brutal boy he was: hard shins
and elbows, too many punches
for one skin to contain. Only when
the charlie ant crushed him
did he start to change. Perhaps

it burned away something cruel, or
he realised that even tiny things
can kindle fire in their blood.

Where else do I store
this heat, without direction?
Some days you can’t feel your hands
for flames.

Staring across the table
and the unapologetic years
we make silent pacts
not to burn. I pass
the rice and ask if he wants
more sambal?
He nods

says it reminds him of home.


May Chong is a Malaysian poet and speculative writer, with previous work in The Willowherb Review, Lammergeier Magazine, and Strange Horizons.

Rove Beetle illustration by C.B. Auder.

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