• sydney khoo

肉骨茶 [Bak Kut Teh]

words by sydney khoo, art by Marichelle Crick


Part one: Bone


There’s a monster that sleeps under my skin

Stirring only at my mother’s voice


I was made

Not born

An incantation gone wrong

My mother spends every breath

Trying to fix me


My mother brought me to life in the fall

When maple trees were the colour of blood

I see monsters in every shadow

(Even my own)

The world outside looks wicked

Through the eyes my mother gave me



There’s a monster that weeps under my skin

Mourning for things my mother cannot give


The demons tell me I must choose

Be a blessing or a curse

I ask my mother if I can be neither

(If I can be both)

She laughs in my face

With both of hers

I cut you from my flesh

I gave you life

And this is how you repay me


On my bedroom ceiling

I stick stars

And dream of space

My mother rips them down

One by one

And inserts them under my skin

When the lights go out

I glow in the dark

You are full of bad ideas



My mother is the full moon

That turns me



When it rains

It storms

All I want is reprieve

From howling at a monsoon


When wolves tear me open

Swallowing my organs whole

My mother asks

Why I let them in



Bury my body in the forest

I would rather your tears water my grave

Than live the rest of my life

Mourning yours


I see wolves

Hiding in

The skin of men


There are birds in the trees

That watch me sleep

Waiting for fresh flesh to eat


My mother made me from sticks and stone

She learnt long ago

The outside world holds no softness

For creatures like us




It will take you half a life to learn

Even the crowns of trees

Can be afraid to touch


You are a sapling

As your mother was once

She planted you on the same earth

In a different time

This rain will taste different

In your new veins


Flowers don't need other flowers to grow

And there are answers your mother

Will never know


Part two:



There are ghosts I carry for years at a time

I’m not sure where we’re going

But I trust them to leave when we arrive


Home is a state of being

And I am prone to wandering


When you’ve been gone for a lifetime

Your past life will feel like someone else’s

But your mother —

No matter how the world changes

— will stay the same



My mother leaves her door open

All the better to hear me scream

She stirs

And touches

Her hand to my cheek

A leoi

It’s just a bad dream

This night

This life

Go back to sleep


When I’m sick my mother makes herbal soup

I swallow her magic down

It passes through me like water


Take your potion

Take your potion

Keep the spiders out of your head



My mother’s father was a monster

Who took more than

My mother could give


My mother’s mother was no witch

Sometimes I wonder

If that’s why

My mother is


(What does that make me?)



When I was young my mother warned me

Leave the bones in the dirt

They are not your playthings


Old friends are just ghosts

Use the board to board your doors

Don’t let them in

Don’t let them in


When you walk the earth with a head full of whispers

The silence at the end of the world

Sounds like screaming

(But relief can be found in the rhythm of chaos)



There’s a monster in my veins

That tears at my mother’s throat

She grows a new one in the night

And kisses my crown when I wake

The sunlight erases the dark

And illuminates

Phantom marks

Stretched across my mother’s neck

In frightening clarity


I’m afraid one day I’ll peel back my skin

And find nothing beneath

Just flesh and bone


My mother’s demons are too heavy for her to hold

So I carry them for her




"肉骨茶 [BAK KUT TEH]" was first published in Infinite Threads in 2019. Read more of sydney khoo's work at or follow them on Twitter @sydneykhoo.

Marichelle Crick is a Filipino-British illustrator currently based in London. She has helped bring to life the works of authors, podcasters, and dungeon masters with inspiration from her dual heritage and lifelong love of SFF media. Find her on Twitter @magpieandrobin.

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