INSTINCTS #7: ‘Midnight’ by Mary Soon Lee


Welcome to June’s edition of INSTINCTS!

I’m very excited to share a poem from Mary Soon Lee’s epic fantasy collection, ”The Sign of the Dragon” today! This is one of two poems she has graciously submitted for INSTINCTS. Several of her poems are also featured in ‘Insignia: Asian Flash Fiction & Poetry.



Tsung should not have come–
useless to pretend he came
to celebrate–
he stood in darkness
by Moon Swan’s tent.

Two battles. Two victories.
In the distance,
a soldier’s drunken laughter.

Nearer, from Moon Swan’s tent,
rustlings, the murmur of her voice,
the sound of a man

Tsung, captain of the king’s guards,
waited outside.

Soon enough, the man left
and Moon Swan stepped out
to hang the purple-shaded lantern
that advertised her availability,
her long hair pinned in a bun,
a faint fragrance of jasmine
as she moved.

“Captain Tsung.” She bowed.
“An unanticipated pleasure.
Seeing you after so long,
my heart lifts like the wings
of the swallows the day we met.”

Lantern still in her hand,
she led him inside.

She who’d sold her time to kings,
gestured to the bamboo mat
on the dirt floor of the tent.
(The mat, a bed roll, the lantern,
water boiling on a brazier,
a chest, a teapot, two tea bowls.
Nothing else.)

Tsung set his weapons down,
sat cross-legged on the mat.

Moon Swan poured Tsung a bowl of tea,
sat down opposite him.
“What is wrong?”

“Nothing. I am well.”
He took a sip of tea,
noticing neither the taste
nor its heat,
only Moon Swan’s face,
his own confusion.

She reached over,
laid her fingers lightly
on the pulse of his wrist.
“The young king,
is that what troubles you?”

Tsung shook his head,
though Moon Swan was correct.
Tsung’s duty to protect King Xau,
the king but a boy of seventeen,
a boy who might be killed
a hundred ways–

Tsung made himself smile.
“King Xau is well.”

“Is he like his father?”
Moon Swan unpinned her hair,
as Tsung had seen her do
the first night Xau’s father visited her,
years ago,
when Tsung was the youngest
of King Hao’s guards,
left to stand in a corner
not knowing whether to watch
(in case the king was attacked)
or look away–

“No, he is not like his father.”

“A weaker king?”

“A better king.”
Tsung did not elaborate.
He took another sip of tea,
set the bowl down.
He should not have come,
should have stayed near the boy–
he got to his feet,
bowed. “I must leave.”

Moon Swan stood,
placed her hand on Tsung’s jacket
over his pounding heart.
“Stay, Captain. Rest.
You will do the king poor service
if you are worn out.”

A truth there,
but he hadn’t come
seeking rest–
Moon Swan standing so close,
her hand over his heart,
her long hair unbound,
the smell of her
mingled with jasmine–
heat in Tsung’s face,
heat hard below.

He put one hand to her long hair.


(after he was done,
after he’d told Moon Swan
such things as men said
when they thought
themselves in love,
after she’d told him
that she loved him
and he’d smiled
thinking that she said that
to all her customers
yet liking it anyway,
after he’d fallen asleep
beside her)
Moon Swan lay awake,
breathing him in,
watching over the man
who watched over the king.

*First published in “Crowned: The Sign of the Dragon: Book 1”, Dark Renaissance Books, 2015.



 Drawing on Chinese and Mongolian elements, award-winning poet Mary Soon Lee has penned an epic tale of politics, intrigue, and dragons perfect for fans of Game of Thrones and Beowulf.

As the fourth-born prince of Meqing, Xau was never supposed to be king. But when his three older brothers are all deemed unfit to rule and eaten by a dragon, as is the custom, Xau suddenly finds himself on the Meqinese throne. The early years of his reign are marred by brutal earthquakes and floods, and the long-simmering tension with the neighboring country of Innis finally erupts into war. Worst of all, a demon thought long-dead walks the realm again, leaving death and destruction in its wake. In a desperate gamble, Xau must broker an uneasy peace with his former enemies and hope their combined strength is enough to vanquish the demon before it destroys them all.

The Sign of the Dragon is comprised of over 300 individual poems, including the Rhysling-winning “Interregnum.” Collected together in its entirety for the very first time, with over 200 never-before-published poems, readers can finally enjoy King Xau’s story of sacrifice and war and dragons from beginning to end.


Mary Soon Lee was born and raised in London, but has lived in Pittsburgh for over twenty years. Her two latest books are from opposite ends of the poetry spectrum: “Elemental Haiku,” containing haiku for each element of the periodic table, was published by Ten Speed Press in 2019, and “The Sign of the Dragon,” an epic fantasy with Chinese and Mongolian elements, has just been published as an ebook.

Mary’s blog:


Links to Mary’s books:

“Elemental Haiku”:

“The Sign of the Dragon”:


Interested in submitting to INSTINCTS? Check out our Poetry Submission Page for details.


*Featured Photo by Alex Harmuth on Unsplash

INSTINCTS #6 ‘Lee Chung-Chung’s Painting Tells a Story’ by Vonnie Winslow Crist


We haven’t had a poem in awhile, so here’s a lovely piece by a regular Insignia projects contributor, Vonnie Winslow Crist. 


‘Lee Chung-Chung’s Painting Tells a Story’

By Vonnie Winslow Crist

blue grey, cloud laden,
seasonal birds wing
their way northward, beaks splitting air
as genetic memory sounds a fevered
blood call.

barren, skeletal,
waiting for vernal equinox
to summon K’un’s nourishment
to root, trunk, branch, twig, twiglet, and

shadow on snowdrifts,
shelters winter’s bones
from beautiful Ma-ku’s reaching fingertips
and Lee Chung-Chung’s magical golden

yellow light on pond,
its brilliant splash
predicts a wash of flowers spreading
across warming ground like a sacred


Vonnie Winslow Crist is author of The Enchanted Dagger, Owl Light, The Greener Forest, Murder on Marawa Prime, and other award-winning books. Her fantastical stories have been published in Canada, Spain, India, Australia, Japan, the UK and USA. Born in the Year of the Dragon, Vonnie believes the world is still filled with magic, mysteries, and miracles. For more information check her website:


Read Vonnie’s first poem for INSTINCTS here.

Check out Vonnie’s drabbles in the new release, ‘Japanese Fantasy Drabbles’ too.


The Eagle owl (Bubo Bubo) and moon.

Do you have an Asian fantasy/scifi poem that you would like to share? Submissions to INSTINCTS are always open! See our Submissions Page for details.


*Featured Photo by Richard Sagredo on Unsplash

INSTINCTS #5: ‘Setsubun’ by Kelly Matsuura

Hello everyone, hope you’re all having a good month so far. Things are a bit tough in Japan at the moment with lots of corona virus cases here in Aichi (Nagoya) where I live. I’m an ESL teacher so all my classes are cancelled this month as a precaution–but the shops are all open, I have a good stock of toilet paper,  and I really can’t complain about all the bonus writing time, can I? 🙂

But, I just realised today that I’ve messed up my schedule for INSTINCTS. I wrote the following haiku series last November I think, but then forgot to post it in February when it was actually setsubun! Doh!

Setsubun is a Japanese festival celebrating the coming spring. People like to wear masks and/or throw dried beans at ‘demons’ to chase away evil spirits.

Anyway here we go–my attempt at ‘horror haiku’, with 3 linked pieces.



Kelly Matsuura

Every Setsubun 
Real demons, stalking children
Hide behind craft masks

Demon out! Luck in! 
Roasted beans scatter the ground
Missing true evil

Spring comes imminently
Blossoms adorn the victims
Of demons’ delights


About the author: 

Kelly Matsuura grew up in Victoria, Australia, but always dreamed she would live abroad. She has lived in northern China, Michigan USA, and over ten years in Nagoya, Japan, where she now lives permanently.

Kelly has published numerous short stories online; in group anthologies; and in several self-published anthologies. Her stories have been published by Ink & Locket Press, A Murder of Storytellers, Black Hare Press, Harbinger Press, and many more.
She majored in Asian Studies at university, and (sometimes) studies Japanese, Chinese and German. Her other hobbies include cooking, knitting, sewing, and traveling.

As the creator of The Insignia Series, Kelly aims to promote the quality and diversity of Asian speculative fiction/poetry by indie authors from around the world.
Kelly’s blog/website:
Facebook: Kelly Matsuura-Author
Twitter: Kelly Matsuura


The Eagle owl (Bubo Bubo) and moon.

Would you like to contribute a poem? Check out our Submissions Page.

*Photo of Japanese masks by Finan Akbar on

INSTINCTS #3: ‘Gobi Sands’ & ‘Kappa’ by DJ Tyrer


December’s edition of Instincts includes two poems from a new contributor, DJ Tyrer, who will also have a story appearing in Insignia: Japanese Fantasy Drabbles.


Gobi Sands

By DJ Tyrer

Great Khan on camelback
Has no fear of thirst
Dares all enemies to strike
Knowing none shall survive
Protected as he is
By the Great Blue Heaven
Taunts even Erlik
But, sands shift
Strange patterns
Great Khan on camelback
Stares in wonder
Marvelling till
Death Worms strike
Leaving nothing but bones
Bleached by the sun, acid
And, fading memories
Obscured by successors
Who shun desert sands
For the limitless horizon


By DJ Tyrer

Water’s mighty pull
Good manners save from strange hands
Kappa loses mind


DJ Tyrer is the person behind Atlantean Publishing, was placed second in the 2015 Data Dump Award for Genre Poetry, and has been published in The Rhysling Anthology 2016, issues of The Horrorzine, Scifaikuest, Sirens Call, Star*Line, and Tigershark, and online at Grievous Angel, Lonesome October, and Three Drops from a Cauldron, as well as releasing several chapbooks, such as The Tears of Lot-49. The echapbook One Vision is available from Tigershark Publishing’s website.

DJ Tyrer’s website is at

The Atlantean Publishing website is at


The Eagle owl (Bubo Bubo) and moon.

Would you like to contribute a poem? See details on our Submissions Page


*Featured Photo by Mike Yukhtenko on Unsplash

November News: Submissions are closed! Thank you!


Submission Calls

Submissions for ‘Japanese Fantasy Drabbles’ are officially closed. I want to say a big thank you to all the contributing authors for submitting such a fantastic selection of drabbles. Otsukaresama desu!

I’ll probably write a post in December about the submission call, for those who are curious about the data and behind-the-scenes work involved in this project.

AS for new anthology calls, I’ll try to make a decision about that before the end of December too. I can say that the next anthology will be for short stories and offer a token payment as we have done in the past. Then perhaps we’ll do another drabble anthology after that…

For the poets, we’re always open for Asian Speculative poems. I’m really hoping to see some submissions from Asian writers for next year–please add us to your submissions list for 2020!

Details on our Instincts poetry series are here


Site Updates

This past week, I made some changes to this site and some of our social media accounts. There’s a new profile logo, and I’ve changed the site name to Insignia Stories where possible. This is because the new drabble anthology will be the first in its own series, Insignia Drabbles Vol.1, Vol.2, etc. So the main site name will be Insignia Stories, and The Insignia Series will continue to be the series name for the anthologies we’ve done. Hopefully that’s clear!

Here on the site, I re-organized the menus and made a few drop-down listings which should make things easier to find. I’ll be putting up a new ABOUT page and one for the drabble anthology very soon, so that will have all the contributors name on it as well.


Story Recommendation

I read a quite disturbing (in an awesome way) horror story recently, featuring a Japanese woman as the main character. It was written by Insignia: Southeast Asian Fantasy contributor, Eliza Chan and is published online at Three Crows Magazine.

I highly recommend it!

Link: ‘Knowing Your Type’ by Eliza Chan


Have a great weekend everyone, and Happy Thanksgiving to our North American writers and readers 🙂

~Kelly Matsuura~