For Exile, or Chang’e Speaks from the Moon

by Natalie Linh Bolderston

Here, I am closer to the gaps in the sky
where nine suns fell. I can touch the trails left
by my husband’s arrows, where the night
was almost unseamed.

And Mother, I can look down at the clouds
that drag like the hem of your dress.
I can see the valley where you taught me
to swim against the river’s current
when I was a child.

I see the house where I sat as a new wife,
and you showed me how to hold a teacup –
two fingers extended, like a phoenix tail.
I miss the smell of canola in our garden,
the lion-dog you kept as a pet, the koi I teased

with my thumb. I miss how the air clung
to my flesh, how easily I could touch
your warmth. The last sun reminds me now
of the candle you left burning
when I could not bear the dark.

Mother, do you remember the peach slivers we ate
when the moon was just an eye about to close?
How we drank from coconuts when it swelled
to a crane wing, peeled lychees
when it became a chipped tooth?

When the moon grows yellow as my husband’s
oiled rice bowl, can you see my shape?
I am made of prayers, hunger, incense, offerings.
Every face that turns to me believes
I can make them beautiful,

but none of them remind me of you.
I spend my days staring into frozen pools
so I do not forget my own eyes – your eyes.
Mother, do you understand why I am here?
I had to flee before the wars began,

before a man could become a god
and swallow me whole.
My husband believed he could fight himself
immortal. Now, I watch him return to his knees
as if he cannot bear the weight of my light.

He looks up at me, mouths a plea
that could also be a curse.

Mother, remember that nothing separates us
but a stretch of silence.
Remember that in autumn, I can taste every plum
you bring to your lips.