The Oracle Never Dances

(Art by Paula Friedlander!)

It’s funny how many of the pieces I sell to Mike Allen of Mythic Delirium originate with him, in one way or another. This one is quite directly traceable to him!

Every year at Readercon, Mike runs a speculative poetry workshop. One year, Readercon had other poets listed as participants – Mike was still in charge, but people doing the workshop could come to the poet-assistants and ask us for input and guidance. I’m not sure how well that worked! (One person did approach me, but he seemed more interested in my cleavage than my critique.)

What was productive, though, was that Mike made us write! We had an enforced period of time where we were just to write whatever came to us. Just stretch. It took me a while to pull my brain into writing mode; I kept sneaking peeks at Erik Amundsen’s notebook (he is incredible). Finally I settled down and wrote three short pieces – a haiku, just to put my brain in “we are paying attention to words now” mode. The beginnings of a poem about how we relate to fairy tales. And, since my brain drifts inexorably to fairy tales, oracles, and Vegas when left unattended, this poem about an oracle in a nightclub.

Drinking’s a bad idea, when one has a tendency to spill prophecy. Dancing might be even worse.

“The Oracle Never Dances” was published in Mythic Delirium #27.


“nameless” is actually the first thing I wrote in the world of what’s now my novel-in-progress, Cicatrix. I had an image of a dancing woman with twisted scars on her shoulderblades, what might have been wings…

The poem didn’t quite work. It sat on my hard drive for a while as I did other things, including expanding that glimpse into a novel – now the person who used to have wings is male, and he has an interesting way of covering those scars. But, as always in a novel, there’s room for other stories than the ones I’m currently telling. Somewhere out there there’s room for the narrator of this poem.

And somewhere there was the right poem for her! I revisited the poem recently, trying to cut it down to ten lines; it didn’t work. Then I opened it up just a little more, let it breathe – and here we go.

An interesting autobiographical note: my birth mother never named me. I was simply “the baby” until she gave me up for adoption. Throughout my childhood and adolescence, I went through name after name, and nothing stuck; when I later learned that I hadn’t been given a name, I attributed my name-fluidity to that.

In the world of Cicatrix, why might a child not be named, or be un-named? What effects might namelessness have?

“nameless” was published in Through the Gate #1 in September 2012.

Mushroom Barley Soup: An Invocation

When I was little, my grandmother made the most amazing mushroom barley soup.

She made it from scratch, and that alone was so different from dinner with my parents, who don’t cook. (My father grills. But usually dinner at their place is takeout.) Just the flash of her knife on the cutting board was something out of another world for me, something to be observed and marveled at. My grandmother’s world was so different from mine, so foreign – and the story that we were told as children of the ’70s and early ’80s was that progress was all, progress was what one strived for. Never look back. Spaghetti and meatballs in a takeout tin was superior to homemade soup; it saved time and mess.

But I loved that soup! I loved the heavy spoon in the green Depression glass bowl. I loved the dense flavors. I loved that my grandmother loved making it. It was my grandfather’s favorite dish, you see; she made it for him.

And he died, and she never made it again.

I asked a few times, but she demurred, and I realized that it was her soup for him; that she couldn’t. I don’t know if she knew how much I loved it; I was ten, and I don’t know if I ever really communicated it to her. She died when I was 14, after a protracted and terrible illness.

It’s not just the recipe I lost. It’s not even just my quietly funny and sweet grandmother. It’s my connection to a past that I value more every year, the sense of history, of where we came from. In my early life, the culture around me was telling me to sever that connection and boldly go into a homogenous future. That is not what I want. I want my grandmother’s soup, and the glass bowls she kept all her life, and the slow chopping of mushrooms, and the murmurs of a dying language. I want my roots.

I cook from scratch. I’ve discovered that I have celiac disease; one of the first things I realized upon my diagnosis is “I can never have that soup again.” But I’ll be experimenting with quinoa or millet in place of the barley. And it may never be my grandmother’s soup, but it’s okay if it’s mine. And I will teach the recipe to my daughter and, when she has them, to her children, and I will tell them about their silly-sweet great-great-grandma Essie.

Mushroom Barley Soup: An Invocation” was published in Stone Telling #8, August 2012.

The Changeling’s Lament

Like many of my poems, “The Changeling’s Lament” started as a few lines scribbled on the notebook next to my bed – “I have studied so hard to pass as one of you. I have tells – blisters, tremors, bruises.”

That sat there for a few months, I think; it lingered in the very back of my brain until a few days before Readercon. I knew I’d be reading at the Rhysling Awards Poetry Slan – I wasn’t nominated this year, but past nominees also get to read. Last year I’d read my nominated poem, “When Her Eyes Open”, but this year I actually had to decide what to read, which is notoriously difficult for me. So I decided that I’d like to write something to exploit my favorite thing about the Slan – the performance aspect of it. Usually, when I write poetry, it’s meant to be read on the page or screen. The benefit of reading aloud is that you get to use language in a different way.

So I sat down to write a poem that I thought was just going to be about the difficulties of changelings. And it twisted itself on me and showed me what it was really about. (You can read all about how the gender identity aspects of it came in at Stone Telling’s roundtable.)

I’m happy to report that the reading went really, really well. 🙂 To the point that people were not just asking me about the poem – they were asking people at the SFPA’s table, one of whom said she thought it was going to be in Stone Telling…

I had not yet submitted it to Stone Telling! But of course I planned to, and I did, and thankfully the editors agreed that it was a good fit for Stone Telling. 🙂

The poem got a bit of editing, because what works for spoken word doesn’t always work written down – but the editors asked me for a recording of the original poem. During the recording process, I discovered that there was a thing one can do in GarageBand to change one’s voice from “female” to “male” and, well, given the nature of the poem, I had to! You can listen to both versions, and I hope you do.

I’ve decided that the collective noun for a group of changelings is a transposition of changelings. Are you a changeling, too?

“The Changeling’s Lament” was published in Stone Telling #5, September 2011. It has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and the Rhysling Award and recommended for the Tiptree Award. It has been reprinted in Here, We Cross, an anthology of queer and genderfluid poetry.


Brit Mandelo at says: “Another poem about not fitting tightly-bound boxes of identity is “The Changeling’s Lament” by Shira Lipkin. This piece, too, works on an extended metaphor—in this case, of a changeling made to fit into the human mold—to explore issues of gender and the rigidly enforced strictures of “girl.” It’s also one of the more tragic pieces of the book, whereas the majority of the poems end with an uplifting note. The changeling does not escape the strictures that have bound and hobbled them into “her” and into “girl,” but instead informs us of the struggle and the agony—takes us along on the titular lament. The final stanza is like a blow.”

J.C. Runolfson at Versification says: ““The Changeling’s Lament,” by Shira Lipkin, is not understated, but it is definitely powerful. There are two audio tracks at the top of poem page, one titled “the girl’s voice” and one “the changeling’s voice.” Play them both at the same time and listen while you read, because this is a poem that speaks by alchemy, that speaks of change, and choice, and the limits of both.”

The Library, After

I originally wrote “The Library, After” at the very end of 2008; it was one of five unprompted Wind Tunnel Dreams flash stories. (Note: I dug this information out of my personal blog; in so doing, I found that I use the word “library” in WTD stories rather a lot.) Several of the stories in that series were tied to previous stories – “The Library, After” stood alone, and it turned out to be the one with staying power!

I started reading it at conventions – I tend to prefer to read flash and poetry, because it keeps a reading moving, switching gears. It built a small following. I think it’s the first story of mine that got fan art (though not the first to get fanfic), and that was before publication!

I had such affection for this story that, when I attended the Meet the Pros(e) party at Readercon 2009 (writers get one line from their work printed up on stickers and share it with people, creating a sort of absurdist poetry as you collect other people’s lines), I used a line from it: “Awakened, the library went feral.” I bounced up to Mythic Delirium editor Mike Allen and traded lines with him, and he said “Where is this from?” and then, “Has it been published?”

I sent him the story. And proceeded to forget that I’d ever done so. It was too short for his Clockwork Phoenix anthology series, and Mythic Delirium is a poetry magazine, so I was expecting nothing except that hopefully he’d enjoy it. But he ended up e-mailing me and asking if he could buy it for Mythic Delirium.

But – it’s not a poem, I said.

It’s poetic, he said.


So trading stickers at a party at Readercon has led to the publication of a piece of my flash fiction in a poetry magazine. I do not have a problem with this! If you like posthuman postapocalyptic singularities with quantum unicorn PIs, you should look it up.

“The Library, After” was published in Mythic Delirium #24 in June 2011. (Art by Paula Friedlander.) It won the Rhysling Award and was nominated for the Micro Award.


Alexandra Seidel at Fantastique Unfettered says: “The sometimes mythical, sometimes delirious, but always adventurous journey ends with ‘The Library, After’ by Shira Lipkin. Herein, stories tell themselves to one another, they grow and change, revealing their protean nature, and they become something entirely new, leaving their shelves and finding adventure, which is probably what most of them were about anyway.”

Tori Truslow at Sabotage Reviews says: “And then Shira Lipkin’s ‘The Library, After’ comes along, magical and wry, a prose poem about an abandoned library where the books ‘told each other to each other’. You could read this as whimsy, you could read it as a bit of thumb-biting in the direction of rigid genre classifications – “New genres formed and split and reformed, tangents spilling out like capillaries. Freed of the responsibility to be useful and to fit human desires and expectations, Story explored itself in Mandelbrot swirls” – whichever way you look at it, it’s clever, funny and affirming. Literary fashions come and go – as we learn, ‘The science-noir-unicorn genre was shortlived’ – but story keeps on going. The image of stories continuing to twist and transmute after we’ve stopped looking at them is a perfect note to end on.”

Diane Severson Mori at Amazing Stories says: “A wonderful personification of the Library, in which the post-apocalyptic library ‘goes feral’, because the library has always felt like a friend to me.”

Nine Things About Oracles

So this fabulous ridiculous thing happened. The remarkable Elise Mattheson, whose jewelry has sparked many a story and many a poem, made a piece called “Nine Things About Oracles“…

And it inspired everyone.

No, seriously. At last count, “Nine Things About Oracles” had sparked 108 poems.

So this is another piece where I feel like writing it has made me part of a community of sorts, and I love that!

As for the poem itself, this is one that came on swift and sure. I’ve written about the travails of oracles before, and will again. As you can see from the poem, I think there’s something uniquely terrible in being an oracle, subject to the whims of prophecy…

My version of “Nine Things About Oracles” was published in Electric Velocipede #20. You can read it online here, and order a copy here!

Review: Terry at Fantasy Literature says: “Dragging an oracle from the realm of myth and placing her in the modern age, translating her life from the ancient one of hanging around a cave to haunting darkened clubs, the poem is a wonderful story in nine stanzas that ends with the intriguing words, “Let me tell you a story.””


This is the rare thing that rose up without a connection to Wind Tunnel Dreams, to jewelry, to masks, to anything but the fact that I am thoroughly steeped in fairy tales. That, and the fact that I am often subject to marauding troops of morbid Girl Scouts.

No, really. My daughter is fourteen, and she and all of her friends are still very active in Girl Scouts. Which is awesome. They’re also a pack of bloodthirsty miniwenches. Which is also awesome.

So, with fairy tales on the brain and the crashthumps of the girls upstairs, it was no stretch to imagine the twelve dancing princesses as maenad-ish vampiresses.

You can read “Twelve” at Cabinet des Fees, where it was published in March 2009.


Joshua Gage says: “Twelve’ is a really exciting piece.”

When Her Eyes Open

In September 2008, I did one of my frequent collaborations with Kythryne Aisling of Wyrding Studios. We solicited prompts from our readers… and every weekday, I wrote something and she created a piece of jewelry based on the same prompt. We had lots of fun – Kyth’s a great collaborator, a very gifted artist, and a good friend!

“When her eyes open, the desert turns to glass” was a prompt I’d been saving for late in the month. Kythryne and I both loved it and felt we could do something great with it, but I had no idea *what*. I deliberately wanted to avoid anything about atomic bombs, because I know Ellen Klages covered that brilliantly in “The Green Glass Sea”.

One day, in the shower, I had the mental image that started it all – running, the sensation of running for your life… or someone else’s…

I wrote the poem and sent it to Kythryne; she went into what she called a fugue state as she twisted tektite and glass into a gorgeous swirl of glow-in-the-dark wire to mirror the poem.

When Her Eyes Open
When Her Eyes Open

You can read “When Her Eyes Open” at Lone Star Stories, where it was published in February 2009.

(It was only recently pointed out to me how autobiographical this poem is. Overwhelmed Shira is overwhelmed.)

“When Her Eyes Open” was reprinted in the 2009 Eaton Science Fiction Conference’s speculative poetry sampler, and was nominated for the Rhysling Award.


Charles Tan of Bibliophile Stalker says: “”When Her Eyes Open” by Shira Lipkin is a poem with a clear narrative and it’s that aspect that I was drawn to. In so few lines, Lipkin conveys character and dramatic tension. That’s not to say it’s not devoid of other qualities such as apt metaphors and stylized repetition but it’s the previous qualities that makes this my favorite poem.”

Rochita Loenen-Ruiz of The Fix says: “Shira Lipkin’s “When Her Eyes Open” is a poem that tells a story. Lipkin uses language with efficiency to convey the dire straits of her heroine. There are some startlingly beautiful lines here, not the least of which are these last two:

When her eyes open
the desert turns to glass.”

Deborah Brannon at Stone Telling says: “”When Her Eyes Open” by Shira Lipkin is a hardcore sci-fi poem that hits all the sweet spots between the emotional interior and the material science.”

Unruly Harvest

At WisCon 2008, I went to one of Elise Mattheson’s haiku earring parties; she makes dozens of pairs of earrings that can be all yours for the price of a haiku. You go in and pick out your earrings, and she gives them a title. You write a haiku, based on the title or the earrings or both, and read it aloud or have her read it for you. The earrings are then yours. It’s good fun. 🙂

I don’t remember the haiku I wrote that night. I’m sure it’s in one of my scattered notebooks! But even as I was writing the haiku, a longer poem was pushing its way out… I had to go upstairs right then and write it out.

Unruly Harvest
Unruly Harvest

The earrings and poem are named “Unruly Harvest”. You can read the poem at Polu Texni, a Magazine of Many Arts; it was published in December 2008.

Wool and Silk and Wood

The fall of 2007 was rough. My longstanding comic project, Shayara, had fallen apart – the artist backed out for the last time. I’d been focusing my creative energies so long on Shayara, and I didn’t know what to do.

So I posted asking for writing prompts, and decided to write flash fiction every day in November. 30 shards of story in 30 days; 30 different worlds. Stretching my brain.

Yes, this was madness. I do mad things.

I was flooded with prompts, and with sponsorships (early in this process, my cat got sick and required tests and surgery (he’s fine now). I’d promised to use every sponsored prompt. One of those, from my friend Emily (an avid knitter and fiber freak), was “wool and silk and wood”.

I had no idea what to do with this. But I had to use it! So I let it sit in the back of my head until it was ready, and one day, in the shower, the Grandmother started talking to me.

She was angry and sad and bitter, and she loved fiercely – loved her grandsons, loved her ways. And she was left out of the tales that prizes questing and adventure. She was a quieter wonder.

And she was spilling out of me in… poetry.

Understand, I had not written poetry since I was a teenager. Yes, I have the obligatory folders stuffed with trite teenage angsty poetry. But I have never in my life considered myself a poet. (Says the girl who’s now sold three more poems.)

But this was a poem. Undeniably.

And I looked at it, and I said, “You know? This doesn’t suck.” So I researched poetry markets and thought it’d be a good match for John Klima at Electric Velocipede. I wrote a rambly cover letter that was probably about as long as the poem itself and sent it off. My very first submission.

I was at the airport, stealing a last peek at my e-mail before my flight home for Christmas, when his acceptance came through. “Wow,” he said. Twice. And my daughter saw my face light up and hugged me before she even knew why I was glowing.

Waiting is brutal. But almost a year after I wrote it and he bought it, it appeared in Electric Velocipede #15/16. You can read it here.



Rochita Loenen-Ruiz of The Fix says “Lipkin’s poem stands out with its lyricism and the wonderful way in which we are reminded of the magic of everyday things. I love how Lipkin captures a grandmother’s yearning to keep her grandchild, even as she already accepts her own heartbreak at the grandchild’s obvious choice. Can anything be more speaking than this line? “There is alchemy right here, if only you would see it.””