The Thirteenth Child

If our thirteenth child is a girl, all her twelve brothers must die, so that she may be very rich, and the kingdom hers and hers alone.
     from Household Tales, collected by the Brothers Grimm.

I never knew
their names. Only
twelve coffins
in one straight line,
filling the cold grey crypt.

I never wanted
more bones. Only
those already
in my hands,
toys for our plain stone halls.

I never knew
true wealth. Only
the gold glittering in
fairy tales,
absent from our own stone crypt.

I never wanted
death. Only
voices, hands,
silken words
to fill the cold grey halls.

I hold a kingdom
of dry bones,
a kingdom of
shadowed whispers.

                           If only
I could have known my brothers.
If only I had
more than coffins.

If only this gold
did not burn my skin,
did not burn me with its cold.

(Editors’ Note: “The Thirteenth Child’ is read by Erika Ensign in the Uncanny Magazine Podcast Episode 7A.)

Mari Ness

Mari Ness has published poetry and fiction in Tor.com, Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, Fireside, Nightmare, Strange Horizons, and previously here in Uncanny. Her poetry novella, Through Immortal Shadows Singing, is currently available from Papaveria Press, and her first essay collection, Resistance and Transformation: On Fairy Tales, is forthcoming from Aqueduct Press. For more, see her website at marikness.wordpress.com, or follow her on Twitter @mari_ness. She lives in central Florida.

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