When the blood and the hate in the eyes
of your foes became too much, when the shine
of blades became dulled in the dust,
when the opening between snarled bodies
desperate for survival offered, you fled—

and the buruburu
ate. It dined upon the shakes
in your legs as you forded
the wide river. It nibbled at
the ever-increasing beat
of your heart that knew
when it is lucky not to fight.

It placed both hands on your shoulders and neck
and froze your face solid, swung you from a tree
with a rope made of your hair.

Dizzy, swinging, corpse
made an example, coward
bleating in the wind,
you yourself became a buruburu,
speeding back along ruts in the road

to the same battlefield you left. Hands icy
white, uniform now tattered
to bleached bones
and empty gaps between rags.

Now you are the frigid wind
upon the nape of the neck
of the last man
crouched inside a hollow,
hating war with his last breath
but unable to fight it.

Brother, you whisper into his shiver.

(Inspired by yokai entries in The Hour of Meeting Evil Spirits: an Encyclopedia of Mononoke and Magic by Matthew Meyer)



Betsy Aoki

Betsy Aoki is a poet, short story writer and game producer. Her work has appeared in Strange Horizons, Uncanny Magazine, Asimov’s Magazine of Science Fiction, 580 Split, The Margins (Asian American Writers’ Workshop), and anthologized in Climbing Lightly Through Forests (a Ursula K. Le Guin tribute poetry anthology). In 2021 she won the Auburn Witness Poetry Prize Honoring Jake Adam York, selected by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Jericho Brown.
Her debut poetry collection, Breakpoint, is a 2019 National Poetry Series Finalist, and was published in 2022 after winning the Patricia Bibby First Book Award. You can find out more at

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