by Qian Xi Teng

According to the legend of the White Snake, Bai Suzhen (the white snake which turned into an immortal woman) bought a green snake which she turned into a young girl. She named her Xiao Qing, and she remained her companion even after her marriage. When an evil monk trapped Bai Suzhen in a pagoda, it was Xiao Qing who, after years of martial arts training, was the one to free her. Together they fought the monk, and after winning they went back to her family home and lived happily ever after.

I appeared in the story only because you
wanted me to. It was your pale hands
that lifted me, a whip of emerald,
from the marketplace basket, and it was your words
that writhed out a soul from my shine-crusted body.
So there I was, to the world something between
your friend and a maid. He tended
towards the former; he was nice, that husband
of yours. I remember the rain when we
first saw him – it lanced silver across your cheek
while I cried out in spite of myself, isn’t he the one?
You just smiled, holding his hand as you
as you stepped lightly onto the boat.
That, I tell people, is how it began –
Love at first sight, silver flashing down your face
while I (everyone laughs here) vomited into
the spangles on the water.
It was never explained to him why I moved
into his new home – I was just the giveaway
that had to be accepted with the amazing deal.
We got along in the end, and there was always
three of us at important events –
your child’s birth, the shop’s opening
and the inconvenient business you try not to remember.
But there was only me through the years
of perfecting my dance of death for you.
It was a rain of silver blade that I lived ten years in,
that quivered your pagoda-prison
into a thousand glittering shards. We won, of course. Now
it’s difficult at New Year visits; I ignore
your rhapsodies on family life
and the bachelors you invite to dinner. Now
your child thinks I’m his aunt; he pesters me
for stories of your life, but only my eyes
(when the tears melt him into your image)
tell him what you have forgotten.

Your face darted among the swords
like a river’s shifting light and we danced
in a rain of silver for the last time
together. Darling, I would have died for you
but I never had the luck.