* * *
Dreaming, I walked on the shores of West Lake.
In a spangled coach, pulled by a pale horse,
I met a comely ghost. “My one mistake,”
the girl said, “was to die beautiful. Coarse,
ugly girls sleep in peace. But not for me.
There is always some idiot writing
poems in my name, calling me foxy,
a man-eater. Pff.” she sighed, untying
the heart-shaped knot of her robe. I stopped her.
Why make the dead’s lives harder than they are?
“Drink with me,” she offered. Ghosts aren’t able
to get drunk, but she liked gin’s raw flavor.
“Thank you,” I said as I lit her cigar.
Smiling, she drank me under the table.
* * *
Su Xiaoxiao (蘇小小, died sometime around 501 AD) was a famous courtesan and poet from the city of Qiantang during the Southern Qi Dynasty (479–502 AD). Her tomb is on the shores of West Lake, in what is known today as Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang province in eastern China. Being gifted and beautiful (as legend will have it) she was the romantic heroine in much poetry written by Tang dynasty poets. Even today she stars in her own Chinese soap opera, Generation of the courtesan Su Xiaoxiao, staring Yamei Wang.
We talk about death and war abstractly.
and pray that it happens elsewhere. I pray
for the dead. She came and spoke Swahili,
died with baby fat, mouth parched, her blue-gray
skin cracked like a shell. At the age of ten
she fought with the LRA. She doesn’t
speak of how she died. “At the hands of men,”
I thought. “Grotesquely.” She stood, shy, silent,
waiting to be remembered. When she crawled
in my lap I gathered her up. “Daughter
of love, you are safe here.” A madman’s war
consumed her, grotesquely. I was appalled
by her wounds. But Wesesa, girl soldier,
doesn’t care; she’s not alone anymore.
The LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) is a militant cult movement operating in Uganda, Sudan, the DRC. It has been accused of widespread human rights violations, including murder, abduction, mutilation, sex slavery and recruiting and forcing children to participate as solders in active combat. It is run by Joseph Kony, a self-proclaimed prophet, who claims the LRA is engaged in a holy war with the aim of establishing an Uganda theocracy based on the Ten Commandments and local tribal laws.
She was — how can I say this? — burned alive
out on Salem’s green for knowing too much.
She taught me the physics of the beehive,
honey’s craft, and I taught her where to touch
to find her [[Charlie, Lima, India,
Tango]]. She had come from a small convent
in Rome, modeled nude as a madonna.
I knew Mother Superior had sent
her to the New World. How the Puritans
found her, she doesn’t say. When I hold her
I get ash under my nails. But so what?
Love is love and she is randy, her nun’s
hymen not withstanding. This is our hour;
when life trumps death and our love runs riot.
“I go public bath some nights,
it is near my house …”
— Shonen Knife,
“(I like) public bath”
It has to be the hair. In films the good
girl’s hair is combed and straight while the bad ghost
has a horror show on her head, wormwood
and nails. The bathroom is steam-fogged, almost
as milk-white as you are, darling. Strip out
of those nasty rags you died in. Sit down
over here. I want to see that cute pout
you get as I rinse out your hair. That frown
when soap suds get into your eyes. Children
are all the same. You all hate getting clean
but once clean you feel divinely content.
Thank the gods for finishing gel, muslin
nightgowns and fluffy towels. Your hair’s sheen,
little ghost of my heart, is radiant.