8:1: “The Night Sisters”, by Amal El-Mohtar

8:1: “The Night Sisters”, by Amal El-Mohtar

Their clever fingers held the sheet
on three sides, gripped it like a secret
clutched close to the heart, like the stars
they dreamt of in the darkness. White
was the colour of difference, a sharp
hot teasing behind their eyes, that saw only sky

when the sky was dark, and darkness, the sky.
It wound about them like a sheet
made for binding wounds sliced sharp
as shards of obsidian, sharp as a secret
whispered splintering into the ear. White, white
as the moon-scratched snow, they dreamt the stars.

But stars will not stay in dreams. Stars,
with their many pin-points, long to prick the sky
to tearing, tearing, long to spindle their white
needle arms into the soft, sweet velvet sheet
and tease from it a secret
hot and sweet and sharp.

One sister wept. “Sharp
are my dreams, tonight, sisters; these stars
will not stay put, wriggle and prick my secret
thoughts ’till the wide dark sky
seems like nothing more than a sheet
of water that thirsts for white

to drink, white
to shine like darkness on hematite. O, sharp
are my dreams, sisters, so sharp that this sheet
we keep shall be chewed ragged by these moth-like stars
who hunger for the sweet black sky
that we grip like a solemn secret.”

They worked together in secret,
teased scissors from their dreams, white
and silver in handle and blade. They cut up the sky
to spare it pain, made each hole sharp
enough to fit the many-fingered stars,
sharp as a nightbird’s cry, or the cracks in a sheet

of ice. They worked ’till the sky was no longer one secret,
’till it was was a sheet of music reversed, white
on blueblack, and the scissored night
rang sharp with the singing of stars.


Amal El-Mohtar currently hails from all over the Levant and across the wild, soggy moors of south-west England; she has been known to reflect upon the fact that she is less a creature of flesh and blood than wanderlust and dust. When not haggling Damascene merchants down or missing train stations, she can sometimes be found scribbling quietly in a corner, playing the harp or drinking unusual tea — sometimes all at once. She also co-edits an online quarterly dedicated to fantastical poetry called Goblin Fruit, and would like to state, firmly and publically for the record, that Jessica Paige Wick is the Evil Fate. She keeps a Livejournal at http://tithenai.livejournal.com.

Jess asked me — or rather told me, as is her wicked wont — to “write a sestina for the sisters who cut the stars into the sky.” I picked the end words, started, and about midway through had to restart because I’d messed up the sestina order and was trying to be a purist about it. It was a bit heartbreaking, because I’d come to love the stanzas I’d written for that order, but this is what came of it. I can’t help but think of it as somewhat diminished from what it was, but hopefully only in the way of the poor scissored sky.



Leave a Reply