You keep yourself alive on the moon by weaving cloaks of hare fur.
When your hare was alive, it bounced from side to side at your feet, and you would always reach down to rub its head. The people on Earth call it yutu, Jade Rabbit. Just as they call you Chang’e.
O moon goddess, they sing on the Mid-Autumn Festival, dancing around a table of pastries and fruits. O goddess, bless us with your eternal beauty, bless us with your powers of immortality.
Forget about elixirs of immortality; all you need is the reminder of a companion—and it is worth noting you killed your own companions. I mean that in plural form because you killed me before you killed your hare.
You keep yourself alive on the moon by thinking about the husband you left behind. You have no choice but to think about him. You see the single sun across from the moon every day, and of course you’d think of the archer Yi—the archer who shot down nine of the ten suns that scorched the Earth. He kept the people from hardship, but it’s funny how he can’t keep the only person he loved from flying up to the moon.
He often wonders why. He knows why you’re up there because obviously, you left him. But why did you do it?
No, you silly ghost. I’m not Yi.
Who am I, you ask?
Well… hush. We’re talking about Chang’e.
But many years have passed—a thousand or something?—and Yi doesn’t lament over his losses now. He sharpens his arrows, angling them at the moon every night, imagining it going down like the nine suns lost in the distant past.
You keep yourself alive on the moon by regretting that you stole that flask of elixir from Yi. You wish that you hadn’t drunk it in a moment of greed, a moment where you were willing to leave your family in pursuit of immortality. You wish that you were back amongst the mortals so you won’t have to seek for life, but it would never be the same because a thousand years have passed and now the people pray to you for good fortune and eternity. Do you hold eternity in your hands? Or are you merely passersby in the folds of eternity?
Now you’re a heroine. Now people praise you, dance for you, sing for you before their shrines. Now people remember Chang’e’s husband as only Yi and no longer the legendary archer who saved the people from hardships. Sometimes he wonders if anyone knows that he was rewarded the elixir of life and that he would be the one on the moon if it wasn’t for his tether to his wife. But no one remembers.
He’s not even sure if he remembers, himself.
You keep yourself alive on the moon by gazing at Earth.
You find life during the Mid-Autumn Festival because a huge part of this festival is dedicated to you. I would call it narcissism, but when I was honored by the people, I did the same.
What? When did I say I’m Yi? Don’t be foolish.
Did I say that the people honored me? You must have heard wrong.
All kinds of sacrifices are made for you. Cakes, wine, fruit. People gather around you in hopes you will bestow anything upon them. Poets recite the tale of how you stole my elixir to become a goddess, but they fixate more on your beauty instead of your crimes. Dancers twist their bodies so they can mimic you, but I know for a fact you don’t dance. Musicians sit under the moonlight to play pipa, guzheng, flute.
The bones of your children—that you left behind—lay scattered around the land, buried deep beneath layers of soil. Has it been five thousand years already? Perhaps enough time has passed. Perhaps I’m ready now.
What am I ready for?
Tonight, when the moon is a full circle, I’ll offer my sacrifice.
You keep yourself alive on the moon by pretending you are.
My arrow is sharp. A long, hazy time ago, I had ten of these arrows, but they have long sunk into the horizons. Now only one remains. Blazing with flames, polished to a gleam to rival your moonlight, aimed directly at the pearly plate you live inside.
But you don’t live inside. You’ve never lived inside, never fully, and even if you had, I will take that last bit of life away.
The ghost of the hare you killed for warmth bites the hems of my hanfu, refusing to let go.
We have accompanied each other for five thousand years, hare.
Ten thousand? Well, it’s more of a reason for you to let go.
Let go now.
When the ghost doesn’t move, I banish the ghost.
You keep yourself alive on the moon by vanishing.
Where is my arrow?
Where are you?
Where are you, Chang’e? Where are you, hare?
Maybe you aren’t alive anymore.
Maybe the only figure dancing on the moon is my own ghost, taken down by my own arrow.
Jacqueline Xiong is an emerging Chinese-American poet and writer. She is currently attending Franklin High School, and is an editor of The Paper Crane Journal, an online literary magazine that can be found on Twitter at @journalcrane.
photo by Uomo Libero and Luca Bravo (via unsplash)