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Star Stitcher

By A.J. Van Belle in Issue Thirteen, January 2024

I sew behind time
and feel too much
in the dusty yard of the seamstresses’ house.
Space fighters scream across the dark dome of sky overhead.
The army needs tunics, so
I wield my tiny sword.

Blue and green lights flicker overhead, bright enough for me to see my work.
I sense every thread.
Old tomes say magic workers used to feel the threads of life,
but those were ancient times.
No one feels that now.

When Mother Sellers’ hand rests heavy on my shoulder
and she says she’s very sorry,
I know my stitches were too slow to grant immunity.

I don’t wait for dawn to walk out of the village.
Constellations sparkle in the coldness of space.
My feet crunch on frozen ground and
my nostrils burn with smoke from the battlefield.

I stumble upon a campfire’s embers where
a woman with the enemy’s blue-dyed hair sits,
knees drawn to chest, a bit of roasted meat in hand.
She doesn’t draw a weapon,
only a sardonic smile.

A deserter like me.

I creep forward and
crouch at her fire.
She hands me a strip of scorched flesh from a rodent she’s killed and
tears meat from the bone with delicate teeth.
She grabs my free hand, pulls it toward her.
Traces the silvery lifeline.
Tiny flesh-stars, linked by a thread. Her eyes are fierce in the firelight.
Star-stitcher. I sensed it.

I’m a slow seamstress
good only for cannon fodder …
the low pulse in my veins could be power.

The far-off bow lights of fighters hover over the battlefield.
Shells drop, staining the horizon red.
She shivers, her shoulder and knee knocking mine.

I pull out the needle,
feel its miniscule weight,
and let the internal threads uncurl along my veins.

This sixth sense that made me a dull seamstress—
this feel of every fiber and soul-link with every stitch—
this is magic.

I tilt my head back and
drink in the constellations
steadfast above the human strife.
Mountain Lion crouches in the southwest.
Barred Owl spreads her wings in the north.
White-Tailed Deer stands at the center of the sky’s dome.

Our sky gods, heartbroken at this battle.
If I stitch them together, they can mourn as one.

I hold the needle up to starlight
The thrum of magic through my veins grows from a trickle to a flood
The eyes of the woman at my side
reflect skyfire.

I hook the needle into starlight and draw threads through Deer’s hoof
and connect them to Owl’s pinion
and to Mountain Lion’s puissant jaw.
The peaceful blanket of the night has
stitches stronger than the battle.

My heart slows.
My magic strengthens.

The constellation animals come together in the center of the sky, united.

The sounds of falling bombs cease. No more red glow on the horizon.
The space fighters’ blue and green lights sink lower
until the ships are on the ground.

Overhead, the constellations’ light pulses,

I know how to wield my tiny sword.

© A.J. Van Belle

A.J. Van Belle

A.J. Van Belle is a nonbinary/transmasculine writer and scientist, living on Vancouver Island with their husband and two dogs. Their poetry has been nominated for Best of the Net, and their short fiction and essays have appeared in journals and anthologies from 2004 to the present. They currently write full-time and serve as a literary agent intern at the Booker Albert Agency. A biologist, they draw on their science background to inform the world building in their work. Lauren Bieker of FinePrint Literary represents their novels.

Poetry by A.J. Van Belle
  • Star Stitcher