I don’t want to conquer you.
Put down your sword and listen.

A raider and slave gave birth to me
on the warship you see behind
the lapping flames of your village.

I’ve watched as they pillaged crops—
crushing crying farmers, wet with dirt
and blood—and ripped the paltry stalks
for instant satisfaction. I’ve watched

as others like my mother, abandoned
on an island when my father grew tired
of her charm, were dragged by their hair
onto that armored ship of my birth.

As my first beard trickled through my chin,
they ordered I do more than throw their used
women overboard. They raped the waves
and snarled at my hesitation. To be a man,
they said, is to trample and bend the world
to your whim—especially women.

Your small village slipped from the mist
and they thrust this mace in my hand.
They sundered your husband’s skull
so that I could claim you for a wife.

They return: shouting and pointing.
Get behind me. We’ll fight together.
They don’t know you have a sword.
So many, so angry, they’ll rain on us.

Your sword impales my back
and punctures my chest, the tip
twisting through my heart.
Why? I would’ve died for you.

That’s why, you say. You’re no man.

The last I see, as my father—beard matted
in curses—tosses my body on the fire,
is a warlord’s broad back, and you draped
across it like a cape. Your cries can’t hide
that prideful smirk: a real man at last.