Guan Yin in the Garden

by Nancy Sheng

Part One: Writing the Shan Hai Jing

I want to touch you where it hurts, he says.
On his fingers there are three things:
Crumbling dirt, sorghum wine, and a moth.

They carve her out of wood.
They wrap black silk for her hair.
They put her on their backs and carry her
from their southern village to the Emperor's court,
from the concubines to the mandarins,
from the rice wives to the fruit merchants,
from the saint in the high wharves
to the fish who swim out of the Yellow River.
They lie on their gills and call her name.

All things come from suffering, she says,
and suffering is the beginning of truth.

On her wedding day she pierces her ears with jade.
Then goes down the path to meet her husband.

Part Two: Legend of the White Snake

Humans and snakes cannot mate.
She puts her head on his shoulder
and weeps poison that sears him.

Two women sit facing each other.
They have blind eyes and hungry lips.
Between them is a bowl of hexagrams.
Bai says to Xiao Qing,
It's your turn.

Xiao Qing tosses the yarrow.

38: Kui.

Bai kisses her friend on the forehead
and tells her goodbye.

Part Three: The Gate of Metamorphosis

The carp dreams.
The jiang shi walk in towns.
The rain dragon looks up at the sun
and promises eight years of drought.

The boy with the crooked foot
plays his flute to the pigs.
Here little piggies, he sings.
In my belly you'll be warm.

Part Four: The Prince Who Ate Jade

Oh, says his father. Too soft, too soft!
You will never kill enemies this way.
They will overrun the Palace of Respite.
Your mother will be raped,
your brothers put to the sword,
your sisters silenced.
Ai, ai, ai!

His name was Xuan Yuan
but no one remembered that afterwards.

He puts the comb in his hair
and goes out with a quiver of arrows.
It only takes three shots
for them to call him emperor
and five for them to call him god.

This isn't necessary, he says.
But he is young.
He has time yet for glory.

Part Five: Diaspora

In Chinatown the air smells like anise,
ginger, cassia, cloves, and fennel.
The rubber burns the bilingual signs
while the woman makes her way
through twisted alleys with chicken bone
and looks up to see the third floor window
shine with the joy of lanterns.

Mama, Baba, she says. It's me.

At first her parents are puzzled.
They stare at this stranger with red lipstick.
With blonde highlights, piercings, a short skirt.
But then she ducks her head and smiles
and they kick over the table trying to reach her.

Part Six: Things To Tell Your Children

Guan Yin is the goddess of mercy, she says.

And? he asks.

And what? And nothing. That's it.
You don't need anything more than that.

Nancy Sheng was born in northern China and raised in a ragtag fashion across Canada and the U.S. She is currently a graduate student in library sciences at the University of Toronto. Her favourite fruit depends on the season and the shape. She once aspired to be a square watermelon. Some days she still practices lying peacefully and rhombus-like on the floor; one never knows when it might come in handy.

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