Set down the tale of the onis’ thirst,
their stomachs empty, their bones dry,
their mouths gaping wide to swallow
the river till stones crack in the sun.
Tell of the fish who transformed into girls
when the river disappeared beneath their gills,
water drawn across their silvery scales.
Where is the water to wash our feet,
to fill our buckets? Where is the water
to bring home to our kin?
The onis smirk, cough, and gulp,
swallow the river in one giant breath.
Out, out! one girl scolds.
Put back our river, cries another,
arms crossed, feet dusty, skin brittle.
Will you marry us for water?
one oni asks to shaking heads.
Will you pay us? asks the other,
but the girls’ pockets are empty.
The fish-girls confer, heads bowed
in confidence, while the onis pucker their lips,
dream of seas and oceans, their thirst never quenched.
Look here! cries one, ready to run.
Here here! echoes the other, head between her legs,
voice muffled beneath skirts upturned.
A spray of river water, warmed by oni mouths,
rockets toward the girls. As fins unfurl,
they hear roars, peels of laughter
as the river gushes forth.
They dive below the swells, tails swish
away the watery guffaws, never turning their heads
to watch the onis laugh themselves dry.