We Inhaled This Wanderlust, by Tehnuka

We begin walking on a grey evening
along uneven pavement.

Two ducks join us, quacking. 
I recall how, last time we walked so far,
you sprouted vibrant sirakaikal
and flew away.

I dwell on those dark blue tail feathers
an orange flash under your wings
the shriek from your new-beaked throat
vivid in my dreams.

Confined to a lower plane, we could not travel so fast:
our feet must play roulette with landmines.
Only a little further, said we, left behind, 
to reassure one another.

There are different paths to escape.
I can never love you less
for changing shape while we crawled 
a little further, and further, to safety.

No, mine were tears of relief that 
you needn’t feel your throat parch, 
needn’t beg a handful of dry rice from strangers, 
scoop water from chalky puddles

while the children watched 
from your back that bore them,
needn’t feel the ground shake 
and hold their thin legs tight.

From the clear sky, did you see tumbling treetops,
thick smoke that choked us, columns of ants
as we marched past the wounded, the dead,
to swarm around flecks of sickly safety?

Did you fly so fast you crossed into a calmer future
wherein the world stayed still?
Did you stop too, then, on a sandy shoreline, 
watch sea breeze sweep coconut palms?

Or did you return to a peaceful past, and fly alone 
across oceans and snow-covered mountains,
soothed by chill winds in whose rush, nonetheless,
you heard phantom explosions and weeping?

This time, we have brought neither money, nor jewelry, 
nor food, cooking pots, kerosene stoves, lamps.
We do not know why we are walking, this time,
when the places we left were safe—

Only that we inhaled a wanderlust 
from blood-soaked dust
from powdered plaster
that was once walls of shelter

From the ash of corpses
on funeral pyres 
of those who were lost
before they could wander.

So, we journey by the side of this highway,
stumbling over cracks where tree roots fight concrete.
The trees were here first—
I think they are winning.

When the path disappears, we stay close to traffic 
hands on cold metal barriers guide us
the skin of our fingers snags on rough edges
cars pass in a rush, ignoring our struggle

I understand in the future, we are all dead
and now is merely the time we take
to catch up.

Yet I want to know:
Have you kept your peacock wings? 
Do you fly ahead 
to seek us a gentler present? 

A time in which we don’t leave our homes forever
in which we don’t always, only, see battles
in which we exhale, and rest, and travel is joyful?

We approach the coast—the sea rises to greet us.
In search of you, we traverse this landscape of ages.

Tehnuka (she/they) is a Tamil writer and volcanologist from Aotearoa New Zealand. She likes to find herself up volcanoes, down caves, and in unexpected places; everyone else, however, can find her online at www.tehnuka.dreamhosters.com, and some of her recent speculative writing in Apex, Uncanny, and If There’s Anyone Left. 

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