Lore

— Nancy Huang

i.          This is how my grandmother tells the story:

                        a millennia ago, in china woman became circle, rung
                        of rope on a silver ladder.

                        Chang’e shimmered in flight, gossamer helium.
                                    goddess of wind wrapped in bone.

                        bao ber, the moon and the sun were lovers, and the stars their children.
                        this is why water billows inside of you once a month. this is why the moon is so
                                                            big—she is carrying, threatening to burst.

                        once, Huo Yi shot down nine suns, and the people made him king. he was cruel
                                                in the way all men
                                                            are cruel. he stole time itself.

                                                immortals were common back then, remember. in this way, their
                        feet never touched the ground. in this way, the days were shorter
                        before.

                                                            Chang’e knew her husband as the sun,
                                                knew how men could crisp the world into smoke.
                                    she downed the elixir,
                        felt her blood thin,
                                                            grew bird bones.

                                    the opposite of free fall and gravity. she rose higher and higher,
                        her furious husband becoming a speck, the Queen Mother
                                    watching from the ground, the sky folding her up.

                                    bao ber, remember that some men are fire. if you can’t fight flames
                                    then become air.
                                                                                    remember
                                                women are yin—cool darkness, wet earth. flying is
                                                not as scientific as they tell you it will be. remember to tie your
                                    hair up so you can see the stars. remember
                        that flying high means becoming free. remember
                                                the moon is a friend of yours, and if she offers a hand, take it.

ii.         This is how my mother tells the story:

                        once upon a time,
                                    Huo Yi was so talented that he shot down nine suns with his arrows, and
                        Chang’e was the most beautiful woman in the world.

                                                            i’ve forgotten some parts of the story. my mother used to
                        tell it to me. no matter; words are bought
                        and sold as cheaply as oil and war.

                                                                                    this is how it happened: after he shot down
                                    the suns, the Queen Mother of the West
                        gave him time’s elixir,
                                                            but Yi did not want to be immortal without his wife,
                                    so he gave her the elixir for safekeeping.

                        remember: when a man hands you a gift, be grateful but wary. remember:
                                    the best hiding place is your own body.

                        mortals demanded Chang’e give them the potion, but she refused.
                                                                        she said, you will not take from him anything,
                        not even me.

                        remember: if your husband has an enemy, then you will become
                                                collateral.
                                                            she drank,
                                                                        she floated,
                                                                                    she chose the moon for her palace so Huo Yi
                        would always have her in his sight.

                        remember: if someone loves you, they need to be able to see you.

                                    and Yi missed her so much that every month he would set out
                                                            her favorite cakes in gossamer light. this is
                        why on nights like this, we let our mouths gush with sucrose. these are
                                                happy nights for an unhappy story.

                                                remember no one on earth is worth you taking flight.
                                    remember every story i tell you is a story
                                                            about love.

iii.        This is how I tell the story:

                        a long time ago, a man shot down nine suns.
                        one day the man got his hands on time itself. it doesn’t matter how.
                                                                                                            it doesn’t matter
                                                whether he was cruel or kind.

                        it doesn’t matter if his wife loved him.
                                                            it doesn’t matter if she
                                    fought him.

                        all of this is peripheral.
                                    remember there is no version of this story
                                                                                                where she does not float away from
                                    her husband up to the fucking sky.

                                    no version where she does not drink the immortal elixir,
                        where she does not ascend to goddess.

                        remember there is no version of this, or any story, where the moon is just a moon,
                                                where the Queen Mother is not all-powerful, all-seeing,
                                                where the wife rejects one half of forever,
                                    where she does not swallow both instead.

                        remember what i am telling you.
                                                            remember who this story is really about.

iv.        And this is how my daughter tells the story:

                        one day, a woman flew up to the moon.
                                                she’s been up there for so long that no one remembers her name,



                                    not even the sky.


Read more from Issue No. 16 or share on Facebook and Twitter.