chang’e

is she still waiting there?

on a hot october evening in a hong kong park in 2006, little groups of friends hover around colourful lanterns. tiny bonfires are lit. there are candles and incense. people are stretched out on blankets. it’s night, but there is an odd feeling of day in the air because of the all the light. the candles and the lanterns and the fires and the incense. and the moon.

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chang’e went to the moon by tragic accident. she was married to her guy. houyi, a terrifically brave archer whose soul purpose was to shoot down the extra nine suns that at the time were scorching the world. the divine king yao was so pleased with houyi’s mad bow-and-arrow skills and grateful to hou for saving the world from climate change that he gifted him the elixir of life. but houyi didn’t drink it right away – he wanted to become immortal, but only with his beloved by his side.

houyi was great at archery but not so great at choosing the people in his life, and his apprentice was this greedy twat by the name of feng meng. feng wanted the elixir, duh, and one day when houyi was out hunting, feng broke into their home. but chang’e was wise and ran to her husband’s defence, drinking the elixir to keep it falling into destructive hands.

as soon as she drank it, chang’e became immortal. you might think that was a good thing but she was distressed at having to leave her beloved behind on earth, so she flew away to the closest place she could find – the moon – hoping he might join her someday.

on mid-autumn festival, we celebrate the moon. we being anyone who follows the lunar calendar and anyone who loves the moon, and me. mid-autumn festival falls on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month. the farmer’s almanac calls it the harvest moon; it’s one of the brightest moons of the year, and the perfect culmination of summer’s end and the crisping of air under a night sky. or a too-warm night sky, like that october night in hong kong 13 years ago.

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maybe the spirits of those that came before become our guides. maybe they live in some dimension between here and the beyond, in the meaning we ascribe to a sneeze or a toad, in synchronicities, in our weird dripping faucets, on the moon. maybe they guide us, maybe they whisper stories for us to learn and unlearn. maybe it is up to us to see these old scars and tend to them, and in that way. maybe it’s up to us to make the world new.

whatever you believe, it’s nice to think chang’e will be lighting my path up blythe hill with her moonlight tonight.

chang’e is pronounced like chahng-uh. she donated her name to the chinese lunar rover program, so now you know.

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separation

how long will i
sit in silence
while this cord stretches out
far, far, far
you in the space beyond
denying – trying – what’s
ours from forever
wait, wait, wait
a universe of
expectancy, patient
unconditional
love, love, love
for the
ages
keep on walking
into fog thick
trust, trust, trust
and i can hear your thoughts
and i can cry your tears
from across the globe
from south of the river

roads

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exhale. what is there to say about the roads we drove in the middle of the world?

i remember the bumps less, it’s always the way with hindsight. the discomforts, the lack, the pain. these evaporate quickly, though they take up our whole field of vision at the time.

bumps, bumps, bumpy, i thought maybe there was whiplash coming, and then we stopped to wait for the other jeeps. we were a day and a half from mobile signal, and we didn’t have walkie talkies or a satellite phone. we should have had both, but we didn’t, and so we stopped, waited, looked back – west – for plumes of dust. were they behind? anywhere? no sign of tyres kicking up dirt miles back. where are they?

instead, we walked to the edge of zorkul, no wind, no sound, no eagles flying overhead. nothing, well except afghanistan is there, like a portrait in a frame, mountains heralding the pamir and the headwaters of the amu darya. we walk, leaving bootprints in the soft dusty mounds, down a hill and over forgotten phone lines. in this part of the world, they feel harmless and terrifying, like anything out here could be a mine. the lake is glassy and the blue of some sky not from here. how do rivers come rushing from nothing here?

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we walk, we are quiet. then, plumes of dust.

these are not roads, but we take them anyway.

records

amazing how it fades in.

on vinyl, you can’t rewind, and the main point of the listening is not so much even the music, but the journey. there is no backtracking to the nostalgic songs. no skipping the ones you don’t prefer. no pause button.

writing, i want to put a song on repeat, because it gives me feelings that help me put words onto digital paper, and i go to hit the repeat button and remember this is a record. even if i wanted a do-over, all i could do is pick up the needle and rest it gently back down somewhere slightly external of where it was, hoping for the best. this simply does not work.

in life, like on a vinyl record, there is no pause button. no rewind to try to figure out the meaning of the second just gone. no repeat function for the beautiful moments. and when a side is over, it’s time to flip and see what’s coming next.

most enjoyment of anything comes from anticipation, someone told me once. but these days i disagree. i don’t want to think about buying a record. i want to grab it from its basement bin, thrust some money at a dishevelled snob behind the counter, cradle it in my lap inside a tote bag on the bus home. and then i want to hold it round the edges in my fingers gingerly (sans latex gloves), slide it onto the peg and feel a small rush as i lift the needle and the disc starts to spin, then lower it and hope for not much of a scratch.

then i want to sit and listen. all the way through. side A, flip, side B. the songs i dislike, the ones that bore me, and the ones that give me all the butterflies, the buzzing speakers and all the pops and crackles in between. and when it’s over, i’ll reach into the wedge on the shelf for whatever album’s next.

 

twin flame 孪焰

you can live a dream for awhile. i guess i just thought it would last forever. but here we are. you surrounded by armour, me under lit pagodas. the guizhou mountains laid with lights, blinking like my eyes in the authenticity of this pain.

cast-open wood windows, let in the scent of jasmine and the smell of the cesuo on a coming summer night; the wuyang waters glimmering like liquid crystal in shades of LED. people are ants, cells, tiny on a riverside footpath eating their suanla yutang out of simmering street pots.

all the advice says my heart shouldn’t be broken right now:

get up soldier.

stand and be a goddess.

own your power, love.

you are a being of light.

i came from the pleiades, andromeda – indigo girl in three dimensions, alien, healer, yinyang.

you came from the dog star – indigo boy in three dimensions, druid, mystic, green man.

somewhere behind the swaying red lanterns and near-distant pitch of street karaoke, a train rattles on raised tracks. and there, the universe always brings you back to me. escape, purge, go to the far side of the world. it’s still you on my astral plane.

i drink wine and channel li bai under the pink moon. so many before, maybe they come after, and we put this cycle on repeat until we get it right.

love, endlessly.

compassion, limitlessly.

amazement, perennially.

twin flame; exquisite inseparability. you knew me forever, i know you always.

and now lightning – silent over the tea horse road, flashing the souls of qing officials and tang poets. and us, in this everlasting dance.

oh how the quiet breeze brings me to life in this body; again.

annabel

overcoming the voices in you that tell you you aren’t good enough. that you are terrible. where do these voices come from? childhood wounds. something someone said once. can i learn to harmonise? i asked, age 8ish. no, you can’t even sing. what did she say? you need to be able to at least sing before you harmonise. all i wanted was for the song to come out of me. to sing. to harmonise. to feel those vibrations. to give out from my gut into the universe. you can’t sing, she said.

fast forward 30 years. this lingers. i can’t sing. i weep in front of an open guitar case. annabel, my blue, thin body ibanez acoustic has been with me since 1997.

in 1988, all i wanted to listen to, sing, be, was amy grant. i know, i know. but, at 7, my exposure was limited to what was allowed by my very conservative mother. amy grant was acceptable, and god did amy make me feel. she sang about real things, some of them were acceptable within the church environment i was surrounded by at school and on sundays.

but there was a spark to amy. she was also full of things to say and learn and feel. she…wasn’t going to be limited, and it turned out later she wasn’t when she publicly left the label of ‘christian music’ and ended up having a public affair and being shunned and generally following her heart. woman after my own tiny heart. saved by love, alright.

in 1997, i’d finished high school in the oddest of ways (pulled out after 3 years and had to take the test for kids who are dropouts, except a year younger than my graduating class), and was living with my grandparents, caring for my ailing grandmother and watching, but not understanding, as my grandfather tried to run from all of that. my grandmother was an alcoholic, or so they said, who knows.

years earlier, i was there, too. i was 7. she stayed home all day. watched soaps in her robe. to me, she was elegant. she had a tray of perfumes with vintage hand-squeeze bubble spray bottles. i wanted to use them all, preferably while wearing her costume jewellery and holding her purses and wearing furs.

it was part of our family lore that she’d played violin, but i never saw her pick up a violin and have no idea about the truth in any of that.

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there was a steinway baby grand piano in my grandparents’ living room. i spent all my summers there. every afternoon, too. my mom worked. dad worked. they both ran their own businesses. i was always at mamalea and papa’s house, as we called them. the baby grand was there only as a piece of decor, but i started playing it. who cared? i couldn’t play, but i just bashed away. my grandmother endured this as long as she could and finally decided i needed lessons (enough with the vintage silent night sheet music that i had no idea how to interpret).

for two years i went to the house of a lady on canyon road in santa fe. how funny i can’t even remember her name now? two years! i learned treble clef, then tried base clef. i was terrible at reading music. mom and dad bought an upright electric piano for me. this was the height of 90s sophistication, and they were about to divorce, so everything was doable to keep us happy at that time.

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i still listened to amy. at some point later, i put her away and left her forever. then we went to live in texas, and high school happened, and my crush played guitar and suddenly i had to learn guitar. that’s when i started.

my dad, the sort of musical hero you could never even hope to be incarnated as the offspring of, got me nicholas. a black gibson everly brothers flattop with stars inlaid down the fretboard. i learned all the things i should learn about guitar on him. the chords of D and G and E Minor. all the important chords. though none of the amy songs.

in the summer of 1997, my mom had moved us back from texas to new mexico and i hadn’t been given the chance to graduate with my year, i had to ‘graduate early’ which meant taking that weird test, waving goodbye to my friends in lubbock, and going to live with my grandparents back in new mexico while my mom lived across the street with my stepdad. god, when i think about it now, wasn’t it all super fucked up?

mamalea, for all her faults or whatever anyone else said about her, seemed to understand this was a fucked up time for me, as a grandmother should. the only thing i really loved was singing and guitar and even back then i wasn’t confident or very objectively good at it, but it was something that always came out of me, just like it had on the baby grand 10 years earlier and like it did in my flat on carlingford road in dublin in 2008 and like it does tonight in SE23 london in 2019.

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i saw annabel in a guitar shop on cerrillos road in santa fe in 1997 and frankly wanted her because she was blue, like my heart was at 16 and still is at nearing-38. mamalea said get her, and gave me the money, so i drove in and bought her and didn’t even care what kind of look i got from the dude in the shop or anything else, about my choice of an ibanez thin-body acoustic guitar because she was, in my mind, perfect and she still is.

It was many and many a year ago,
   In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
   By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
   Than to love and be loved by me.
I was a child and she was a child,
   In this kingdom by the sea,
But we loved with a love that was more than love—
   I and my Annabel Lee—
With a love that the wingèd seraphs of Heaven
   Coveted her and me.

she’s been with me longer than anybody. literally. we wrote teenage songs that should never see the light of day, the first of which was about the scarlet letter for my sophomore english class, and even played 20-something gigs in austin and houston. and i stood on stage with her in zhejiang and she dutifully accompanied me while i belted out ‘my heart will go on’ badly for hundreds of chinese students.

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and she was there, when i left her to lie dormant. when my heart loved and was broken by a man and another man, and really broken by myself. i put her away and stopped thinking about things of the heart, because they seemed like too much, too hard, too complicated, too many shadows and wounds to face and all i wanted was simple and married and life solved and to be done with all that. i wanted emotions gone.

in the end, emotions aren’t gone, they are just shoved away until they aren’t and then they come bursting out and you have to weep over the guitar you’ve let sit in her case for years because you were too afraid to face yourself and all the shadows lurking.

But our love it was stronger by far than the love
   Of those who were older than we—
   Of many far wiser than we—
And neither the angels in Heaven above
   Nor the demons down under the sea
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
   Of the beautiful Annabel Lee