Not All Caged Birds Sing

Edited by Julia Rios

July 2019

Listen to this story, narrated by C.S.E. Cooney:

The Dissy strutted on the unkempt lawn, folding and unfolding an intricate fan, eyes blazing. She was alone this time, her sisters hidden inside the manor’s darkness, her halo hair stark against shreds of sky, the broken weather. The other did not wait for me to speak. He opened his huge wings and turned his head to face me. From his beak, cruel talons, I feared nothing made of iron nor any metal could keep him. There I was in my cage like a great wound split open, like an eye put out, like space where a tree was born and died. Wind sang in that empty place, and I wanted to sing but my tongue sprouted roots and leaves. They wrapped around my throat until I could not breathe.

Later, when I woke, the ceiling was lit in the same shade of jigsawed blue, the Dissy’s forever night sky. I vowed to stay awake and marched through the house, opening and closing doors. The door I opened revealed a gaping hole in myself. Hunger filled me but I refused to eat. I ignored the tables piled high with fresh fruit and sweet cakes. Instead I peered through bricked windows, flipped through flesh-bound recipe books crowded on the dusty shelves until sleep crept up on me again and stole me away.

The next night I dreamed of the Weeping Dissy. Unlike her fire-eyed sister, her tears spilled over like fountains. Green and shining everywhere, she grieved until the waves broke over barbwire. She carried a broken doll and held it like a small child. She held it and wept, her hands great claws that covered its tiny head. The Weeping Dissy grieved until the water around my feet was a shimmering pool of blue-green tears. She grieved, licking her lips, then dropped the doll child into the rushing waters. It sank in the cauldron of tears as her bright hooks faded out of sight.

“Eat,” she said to me. “The world is round, the night is long, and you are not plump yet.”

That night I slept in the great cavernous bed. Hunger bit the inside of my cheek. I lay there, shivering, as the portraits of the Dissies rattled and shrieked overhead.

“Eat,” they cried.

“Feast,” they sang.

I heard the ebon-feathered sistren calling my name as curses passed over my head like thistle and weeds.

© 2019 Sheree Renée Thomas

About the author

Sheree Renée Thomas

Sheree Renée Thomas is a Memphis-based award-winning short fiction writer, poet, and editor whose “black pot mojo” creative work explores ordinary people facing extraordinary circumstances. She is the author of Sleeping Under the Tree of Life (Aqueduct Press), honored with a Publishers Weekly Starred Review and longlisted for the 2016 James Tiptree, Jr. Award, and of Shotgun Lullabies (2011), described as “a revelatory work like Jean Toomer’s Cane.” Thomas edited the Dark Matter black speculative fiction volumes that won two World Fantasy Awards. She has been awarded fellowships from Bread Loaf Environmental, the Millay Colony of the Arts, VCCA, Blue Mountain Center, Art Omi/Ledig House, the New York Foundation of the Arts, and the Tennessee Arts Commission. Her work appears in numerous anthologies and literary journals, including FIYAH Literary Magazine, Apex Magazine, Strange Horizons, Memphis Noir, So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction & Fantasy, Stories for Chip, Revise the Psalm, Jalada, An Alphabet of Embers, The Ringing Ear, Ghost-Fishing: An Eco-Justice Poetry Anthology, Blacktasticon, Mojo: Conjure Stories, Mojo Rising, Callaloo, and Harvard’s Transition. She is the Associate Editor of Obsidian: Literature & Arts in the African Diaspora (Illinois State University, Normal) and the founder of BSAM Memphis, a festival held in the historic South Main Arts District that celebrates Afrofuturism art, music, artivism, and scholarship.

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