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  Nov 2020 Yaoyan
G
I carry a mask in my purse
for special occasions.
Turns out
wherever there’s people
there:
occasion
  Nov 2020 Yaoyan
C
I am haunted:
Not by poltergeist,
but by my unlived lives.
Parallel universes
won't ever speak,
they took an oath
to keep from me.
I have words and voices
humming in my head
that will never be met
outside of my bed.
I have to accept
I cannot have it all,
I have to accept
knowing nothing at all.
Yaoyan Oct 2020
The girl follows the fox follows the girl.
--
(Excerpt from a fox story of the Songlands 1000-1200 AD, author unknown.)

“Fox, I must go.”

“Don’t go,” the Fox pleaded, “Who will play with me in the streams? Who will hunt with me in the spring? Who will make dumplings with me and watch the sunrise?"

“I must go. The winds call to me.”

“Let me come with you. I shall be your companion. I will guard over at night when the road is long and dark and gather berries and hunt in the woods so that you will never be hungry.”

“What of your home, dear Fox? Are you not a fox of Ming Yue Mountain?”

He became shy from this question, unable to meet her eyes. He muttered something she could not hear. Then his usual bluster returned.

“These lands will not hold me.” They are not my home.

Abril smiled, “Then we shall go on a great adventure together.”

The Fox jumped into the air in delight and flipped around. When he touched the ground, he had grown a sleek dark red coat and proudly displayed his nine fluffy tails. Abril marvelled over them and scratched behind his ears.
--
She is the hunter, storm clouds in her eyes and lightening in her veins. She is no stranger to blood, to bloodlust, to holding death in her hands. She bares her fangs. The air cackles with ozone, fresh pine, and mulberries.

Where she runs, she leaves no trail. The winds whisper her name.

A fox runs with her. Sometimes a woman, sometimes a man. Sometimes neither.

She runs and the world turns –
Fall autumn winter spring,
She runs along the Tree of Worlds,
From one life to another.
5/5 The Hunter and the Fox
Yaoyan Oct 2020
I am halfway to the heavens (to the gods)
And halfway to hell.

(I have outgrown my mortal shell)
--
She is dreaming. In her dreams, she is riding on an endless grass sea, blue sky above, barely able to grasp the reigns. Her father’s steady hands guide her own small ones on the bow, and later how to hold the knife.

“Like this, it will lessen the pain.” Her father’s voice is unclear, like passing through a water bubble or behind a curtain. “Every part has a use. The bone for knives, for bow handles, sinew for string, fur to pass the winter.”

“Always give thanks to the life that sustains yours.” They clasp their hands together and pray as she imagines the twisting branches, the impossibly deep roots of the Tree of Worlds, connecting souls from one life to the next. Abril closes her eyes.

When she opens them, a Princess cups her cheeks tenderly, the light reflecting off her sky-blue eyes, dark braids with beads twinkling in the wind. She is beautiful, so beautiful that it hurt to look at, because it was a beauty she could never hold.

“Do not cry,” the Princess says, but tears fell from her eyes too. “I am not worth your tears. You are made for greater things, Abril daughter of Adriel, companion of Kings and Queens.”

“You are worth this and so much more, my jewel.”

“I will find you one day under the Eternal Blue Sky,” The Princess says, their foreheads just touching. The tears continue to fall.

“You must go, now!” The Princess cries, “Go!” Smoke rises in the distance. War drums and the earth trembles with the sound of a thousand horses. Her father guides her and mother in a moonless night. Her mother is crying, but his eyes are dry.

“You must be brave now, Abril-jin. Protect your mother. Look after yourself.
I will find you under the Eternal Blue Sky.”
--
Lady Cecillie Vasseur stares at the full moon above and Abril stares at her, at her fingers gripping the handrails, the moonlight dusting her cheeks. There is a new crease on her forehead, in the corner of her eyes. She wants to run a hand over them and smoothen it out.

“You promised me. You promised we would grow old together. Now you go where I can not follow.”

“I did. I’m sorry.”

“No, you’re not,” Cecillie says. A small half-sigh. Her golden curls, once always short and framing her face in their youth, are now pinned up at the top in elaborate patterns and braids.

“No,” Abril smiles wirily. “I’m not.”

They wrap themselves in silence. The wind is warm on the balcony. The lights glowing from inside reflect on the waters of the pond below, distorting the reflection of the moon.

“I don’t regret it. There is too much I want to do, to see. To know. The world is vast, filled with secrets I have yet to discover.”

Abril breathes in the scent of petrichor and the sweet-smelling perfumes of the oil lamp. She moves a hand closer to where Cecillie’s rest as they stand side by side. “You could join me.”

“I can’t. I have my people, my husband, and my children…” She smiles sadly. “I don’t want to outlive my children, my grandchildren, watch them grow old and pass on without me.”

“Let’s make a new promise. When your kids have grown and you have passed on your post, come with me. For a short while.”

“What if by then, I am old and gray?”

“I won’t mind.”

“And if I can no longer walk?”

“There is a fox that can help with that,” Abril smirks, “Though you may have to charm him a bit.”

Cecillie laughs, the memory of fireflies and summer storms, “Okay. It’s a promise.”
--
In a small village by the Yulong Mountain range, a man sits by a small house surrounded by rice paddies. He was once a young man, strong arms and tanned skin, but he is old now, with white hairs, aches in his back, and a knee that stiffens before it rains from the years of working in the fields, back bent and head towards the ground.

Abril had known him when he was a young man.

She had arrived after New Years. This was his grandmother’s house and was his and his wife’s and now is his once more as their children have left, some travelling to distant shores, others just down the street. He had said goodbye to his wife in her sleep last winter. She was buried in their familial cemetery in the hills in the back.

“Are you planning to stay here?” Abril asks. The house was not so large to be a hassle to upkeep, but some shingles might need to be replaced and the bed creaked.

Li scratches the chin of the fox who was sleeping on the floor, who opens one eye and sniffs the hand, and went back to sleep. The fox was always fond of Li. Abril swore she was not jealous. For many years, his rice and the rest of the village had been plentiful. Good fortunes as they were so far away from the capital that supplies rarely arrived during famine years.

“I think so.” Many years ago, he thought he would never have the chance the return, ****** into a destiny he did not ask for and felt hopeless to escape from. He had lost his mother and a father that he just regained to the machinations of the royal court.

“I think I’ll stay in Lijiang for a while.” I’ll stay with you until it is your time.

“Thank you, old friend,” He smiles softly.

Overhead, a large flock of egrets fly along the arch of the setting sun back into the mountain burrows and the pines. Some children are playing in the long hallways of the house nearby, their laughter can be heard over the white walls. They crack sunflowers seeds like old people did and spit watermelon seeds like children until the sun sets.
4/5 The Hunter and the Fox
Yaoyan Oct 2020
They begin their mirrored dance.

“Humanity hides,” Abril explains, “They hide their claws, their sharpened teeth,
They build high city walls, palaces and keeps,
Pretending to be above the rest of the wilderness,
When they are drawn by the same forces that move this world.”

The fox holds onto chopsticks delicately, hair curled up in an elaborate headpiece.
And sinks its teeth into a piece of deer meat. How silly, they both think when their eyes meet.
--
They had followed a wolf pack hunting a deer,
And were there when the blood spilled into the earth.
They were there when the lightning set the tree ablaze
And were there when flowers bloomed in the ashes.

Abril watches and she sees,
The shadows growing in the corner,
The unnamed dances in the storm.

Abril listens and she hears,
roots speak, winds whisper,
the voice of the crow, the snake, the old monkey,
The earth and its aging gods,
The sky and its celestial maidens.

“But they are also kind, and bold, and daring.
They too, can move mountains.
They too, know the power of blood.”

Somewhere, far away, there is an Emperor,
One or two or three,
Under the Mandate of Heaven,
Ordering a wall ten-thousand miles long.

Somewhere, men fall on battlegrounds,
Their blood running into streams, into ocean.
Somewhere, a mother dies at childbirth,
Leaving her child, crying, as the blood is washed off.

(“A fox in a human coat is still a fox,” Master Yu-wa warns. “They are wild creatures. Dangerous.”
“So am I,” Abril shares a wide smile with Master Yu-wa that was not kind.)
3/5 of The Hunter and the Fox
Yaoyan Oct 2020
Cunning ones, with nine-tails and orbs of power,
Beautiful women luring men to devour.
Honored ones, bringing bountiful harvests,
Whom villagers share their food and drink.

They are loyal companions, playful tricksters,
Messengers and harbingers.

They do not serve a single master.
(They are not human, no matter the smile, the enchanting eyes,
Do not forget that.)
--
The fox returns another stormy night, banging loudly on front gates.
(No one else awakes to answer)
They wear human clothes; they wear her face.
“What are you here for?” the girl asks, bright-eyed and unafraid.

The fox walks forward, on the tips of its feet, swaying and smiling with too many teeth.
“Are you here to grant me a wish?” Because the girl has heard of stories like this.
“Do you want me to?” Said with childlike glee. “What would you give in exchange to me?”

The girl shakes her head and asks once more, “Tell me what you are here for.”
“To thank you.” They dangle a small cloth pouch.

Winds howl. Rain washes over the ledge.

“I want something else.”

The fox sounds a barking laugh. “You? Make demands of me?” The glint in its eyes says
little boys and girls are what I eat. I wear their skulls and charm their hearts,
until all that’s left is an empty shell
and my own divine immortality.

A shake of a head, begetting rain drops. “A bargain, a simple trade. I teach you and you teach me.”
To capture youth and bottle up light.
To gaze past the heavens, to move earth under my feet,
let me see it all, this universe, its secrets and its mysteries.

“And what will you teach me?”
The girl, Abril, smiles, a little too wide, and full of teeth.
“I will teach you to be human.”
2/5 of The Hunter and the Fox
Yaoyan Oct 2020
It starts with a girl hunting in the storm.

The sky pours a torrential flood.
The air cackles with the smell of ozone.
Spirits dance and curse over distant pagodas
on rows of lone mountain peaks, scales of a great dragon.
She follows the cold flashes of light,
Until she is only shadow.

(In the distance, a woman’s voice wails)

It starts with a girl,
Arrow notched, string taunt,
Hands steady, and water on her hair, her face, her lips,
On the callouses of her fingertips.
She meets the glowing ember eyes-
Thunder booms,
A tail, a grin, splits in two,
A whistle and a deafening thud.

It starts with a girl,
Who lets a fox live.
1/5 The Hunter and the Fox. Part poem/short story based on Chinese mythology.
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