Mudlark Poster No. 30 (2000)

Qian Xi Teng

Caeneus to Caenis: Reminisces | Chang E: the True Story

Qian Xi Teng has been published in a few Singaporean anthologies and will appear soon in SINGA (Singapore’s only literary magazine) and POETRY GREECE. Writers she tries not to imitate are Kathleen Jamie, Sylvia Plath, and W.S. Merwin. She plans to memorise “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” one day. Qian Xi is currently a student of Hwa Chong Junior College, Singapore, and is looking forward to turning 18 next year.

Caeneus to Caenis: Reminisces

Poseidon once lay with the nymph Caenis... and asked her to name a love-gift. ‘Transform me,’ she said, ‘into an invulnerable fighter. I am weary of being a woman.’
                              — Robert Graves, Greek Myths

If I recall correctly, he was pounding at your door for weeks
before you gave in (even with his power,
rape was always the last option),
before the last tempting deal—your virginity
for anything you wanted.
I think he liked the idea of being the last
(and like all men, they only want you once).
And you were lucky, you know—
other girls don’t get a choice; better beer and steaks
for the rest of my life than photosynthesis,
turnips in the byre or a permanent diet of beetles.
Later, in confused moments before falling asleep
under a pallid moon, I thought I heard
the echoes of his laughter
at your request to trade in the periods
and crimson-edged cries of childbirth
for the clamour of metal on flesh
and this other kind of sharp blood-stink.

Of course, in a way I was happy;
it was easy to fight other people’s wars
clanking out in armour, wading out of the blood
for dinner, drinks and a casual rape or two
afterwards. They were usually whimpering girls
who started to look like you in my dreams, the ones
from which I woke with bleeding cuts scrawled
by the ground after five hours of fevered writhing.
Heroics like these get me statues with my name on them
and a place in the market-square gawked at by grateful
ignorant villagers. As for those under my command,
I enjoyed the adulation and seeing men who would have
violated you without a thought ask me for sex tips.
Oh, it was hilarious. Pity I didn’t see their faces
when they rode out to count the dead and found
in the armour of the hero with whom
they had traded dirty jokes and swapped penis sizes

your body.

Chang E: the True Story

It got boring after a while,
watching you make the same arrival every day
with a sun speared through your
infallible arrows (the same kind
you tried to capture my heart with
like a bad valentine pun)
and dripping light as red as wine on the floor.
Worse still, making me tend like children
those blazing red eyes, those incandescent hearts,
those burning apples you (with your own light
shooting from your face like knife-blades
and the same look I remember
when you introduced me in my designer clothes
at parties) flourished in your old impresario act.
Stupid man, still trying to get my attention ten years after
our first date when you told me that eating fire
was the kind of thing you liked doing.
This is even better — hoarding each flame like herbs
with a little convenient adulation thrown in,
more trophies for your anti-global warming policies
mounted on the wall like me.

Now you say you’ve bribed your scientists
into letting you live forever.
You really think I’ll let you?
I’m sick of languid embroidery,
boiling rice like little congealed boredoms
and cleaning your light spills. Your pill shines
like the last voting slip on the table,
tasting not of the concentrated warmth
of your sunshine but a capsule of moonlight
spreading ice through my body. I freeze and lighten,
I am floating into sleep and rising into
the amnesiac whiteness of the moon. Soon I
(a lonely shadow against a pale-dusted porthole)
will look down at you and hear
the loud music of your parties, smell
the Chanel of your new wife and see
the sunlight flooding out our house completely.

NOTE: According to a Chinese legend, there was once a time when ten suns shone in the sky. They scorched the earth and parched the people. Hou Yi, the ruler at that time, happened also to be a brilliant archer, so he decided to save the people. Nine of the suns he shot down, leaving one to serve the purpose it does today. For this he was rewarded with an elixir of immortality, but this so tempted his wife, Chang E, that she swallowed it and floated to the moon. She has remained there ever since, and now the Chinese celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival in her honour.

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