“when you get your daughter back” by Maya Chhabra

“when you get your daughter back” by Maya Chhabra

she does not scream she does not cry
she stands marble-still
you touch her face to be sure
hot blood under soft skin
the changeling was always chill

but you’ve traded icy limbs for
eyes like space’s void
blinks too far apart
you fought for her so she must be yours

she picks apart butterflies
when the trees do not speak back
she rips out hunks of bark
bare-handed till both bleed
she will talk to anything but you

i love you, you tell her and she laughs

she has scars you may trace with hands
but never ask where they came from
she shrugs and gestures
and slips away

she never shies not from cars not from you
never shivers but is as stone
and slowly you learn

love and fear and softness invited
them their scorn their magic their knives
careless handling casual breaks
she is colder than ice that sometimes melts
she has held her own

i love you, you tell her and she weeps at your folly

love and fear and softness invite
her to prey on you all that is safe is rage
and they are not here to rage at

does she want to go back does she want home
you give her everything and she
drinks like the parched earth
that does not return

she has been taught that
if she is unprofitable they get bored
and sometimes they go away
does she want you to go away

slipping in and out of your life
like a stone bending water
distorting disturbing and remaining

i love you, you keep saying
as if drop by drop to wear away
the prison she has fought so hard to make

Maya Chhabra is the author of a children’s novel, Stranger on the Home Front, which will be published by Jolly Fish Press in January 2021. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Strange Horizons, Podcastle, Daily Science Fiction and many other venues. She lives in Brooklyn with her wife.