you forget how your father’s finger looks like
always hidden behind the sanshin chimi, black pick that
engulfs the nail to the first joint, curved and hard
uncannily like gnarly claws of an oversized raven

you remember after his fifth song
and fourth mug of beer

his gruff voice telling you

the ūjiru male string is the lowest, the biggest
baritone of the group, tough as nails
the mījiru female string is the lightest, its voice
a feathery twang, wound up, pressure afflicted
then there’s the middle one with no gender
at all, neither daughter nor son, male nor female

just middle

nakajiru, middle, you say, trying to remember
the last time he visited from the mainland
and, yet — trying not to remember, not to think
of the missed appointments, the work-engaged
cancelled flights, tickets to jazz concerts postponed

and his finger, what did it look like
when he peeled off his pick to type?
to pen another email of cold, begged
forgiveness, not an ounce of sincerity
bleeding from font to screen

the chimi hits the female string
a voice warbles in the dark, shrill
accusatory, your dad’s finger pointing
towards the snake-skin body, hollowed wood–
and another ghastly finger arises, slender,
pointing right at your dad, at his long nose

beneath his voice, a tenuous harmony
an ache behind the words, a piercing screech
that only those who share his genes can hear

your eyes strain from the domestic discord
a pulse shakes your feet, spilled orion-brand beer
splashes off your legs, lands on soy-sauce-
stained floor, the tumbler on the table warbles

you can’t help but think of the scent of passion
fruit, sweet perfume, the metallic clang in your
mother’s pleading voice, ordering him to stay

fruitless like commanding wind to quarter itself in the
red-roofed akagāra houses, not blowing, not shifting
not singing out its longings while striking three successive

strings, not winding its wrist again, the sagging
skin at the forearms, the crumpled finger hidden behind the
black pick warbling sorrow — as the air in the cavity vibrates —

something big and wholesome deflates
loses its integrity and shrivels
like a bird beak pecking at a balloon

he marks the end of the min’yō with one blazon
strike at the nakajiru again, a deafening quaver as the
spectral finger points to you, silence in the room as the
note shivers

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D.A. Xiaolin Spires
D.A. Xiaolin Spires steps into portals and reappears in sites such as Hawai’i, NY, various parts of Asia, and elsewhere, with her keyboard appendage attached. Besides Mithila Review, her work appears or is forthcoming in publications such as ClarkesworldUncannyStrange HorizonsAnalogNatureTerraformGalaxy’s EdgeFiresideAndromeda Spaceways (Year’s Best), Factor Four, Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, Diabolical Plots, Little Blue MarbleLONTARArgotStar*Line, and anthologies of the strange and beautiful: Deep SignalRide the Star WindSharp and Sugar ToothBroad KnowledgeFuture Visions, and Battling in All Her Finery. Select stories can soon be read in German, Vietnamese, French, or Estonian translation. She can be found on Twitter: @spireswriter and on her website: