Image Credit: Hemu Venkataraman
“Chang’e took the medicine of immortality and fled to the moon.”
–Guicang (Zhou Dynasty divination text)
Looking up from the astrology calendar, my friend says, “I knew it—
you’re a Cancer.” Brushing back her bangs, she reads: There’s a sense of
roundness about you. Cancer rules the stomach and breasts, so yours are prominent.
Poking my soft sides, she giggles. Blushing darkly, I cross my arms over
my training bra.
At recess, I enter the school library. Under a sunlit window, I open a
dogeared book. “Here’s a love letter for you,” a sneering voice says.
A paper airplane sails between my legs. The first boy slides his hand
up my thigh. I squirm away. “I think she like it.” He says. The other
boys snicker. Other hands grasp at me, pulling. The air parts, and I
float away. The creature below smears into the darkness.
“You shouldn’t tell anyone.” My friend says in our blanket fort. “They
wouldn’t understand.” The flashlight flickers, dust gliding between us.
She places my hands near her forehead. “According to the charts, you
can read my mind,” she says. “Come on, Cancer. What am I thinking?”
She closes her eyes, mouthing a boy’s name.
“It’s school stress—too much homework,” I tell my mom when I
started crying at night. “Then stop worrying,” she says, hugging me.
“Don’t try to be perfect.” Her arms, warm and soft encircle me
gripping gently. I begin to weep, breath tangles in my throat.
“Don’t sweat the small stuff,” the school counselor says, crossing his
arms. “Inhale deeply from your belly. Hold your breath, then release,”
he says. He smiles into my strained face. “I’ll count for you: keep on
Reaching deep into my mother’s closet, I find the black felt belt of her
night robe. I wrap the it around my neck over and over. In the dark, I
lie down and close my eyes. I pray for accidental entanglement, for
soothing sleep. In my dreams, I’m cradled in moonflower. I chafe away
like a moth’s wing. When I wake in the morning, I claw neck, my
hands—red vines trailing down my body.
“I want to be normal.” I tell my shadow. Twenty years have passed
since the boys, but I dream of tilting off the brilliant arm of a galaxy,
spinning off into a void. I swirl the cold tea in my mug, gaze into it.
The leaves fold into a woman—she motions upwards to a crescent.
The moonlight tilts by the edge of my bedside, a silver sickle.
As the temperature dips, my sadness increases. I make trip after trip
to the pharmacy. I contemplate the pills in my hand—each one a pale
moon. I peer at their surfaces, examine the blue and white
topographies: Sea of Crises, Sea of Tranquility, Sea of Vapors.
Mechanically, I swallow them one by one, the world muted of color.
Loneliness stretches inward and outward—I send out a dating ad,
then wait. I wake up one night, choking and crying. I sit up— my shadow
swells and smears along headlights of passing cars. Outside
the window, the Big Dipper ladles out smog. Tightly curled in sheets, I
finally doze off.
The artist replies to my ad: “Let’s meet and talk poetry and art.” In the
picture, his unfocused eyes gaze into the mirror, a camera held to his
broad chest. His parted lips reveal canines, glinting in reflected flash.
The meds, I decide, are the problem. I place them into desk drawer
under my socks. As the days go by, the world becomes more vibrant.
The dulled edges, now honed crystals. As I walk downtown to meet
the artist, maples shift their leaves, kaleidoscopes of fire. “I’m sick of
being alone.” I tell my shadow. It waves and bobs under the canopy of
sun and clouds.
Pushing the beer away, the artist tells the bartender, “I can’t drink this.
You poured it wrong. Pour it again.” She gazes at me, tips a new bottle
gently, the lager sliding down the sides of the glass. “That’s better,” the
artist says, taking a gulp. He massages my hand, running his thumb
over my knuckles. “Let’s get out of here,” he says.
In his apartment, canvases are pinned to the walls. “I won a prize for
that one.” The artist nods towards the woman staring into space, flat-
eyed. Outside the window, Venus rises—shimmer muted by the city
lights. As the artist paws at my tee-shirt, shadows flutter from corners
of the room. I shudder. “You’re cold.” The artist says. He opens the
oven door for heat. The red coils writhe in darkness.
“Hush. I’m almost in.” the artist says when I cry out. His eyes half-
closed, he rotates above me, lunges downwards. I swallow a mouthful
of bile, and watch a woman glide out the bedroom window, up to the
moon. I try grasping for her, but my arms are leaden, pinned to my
sides. She beckons me, her wide sleeves billowing. High above the
earth— the laughter of stars.
I wake to a haze of cigarette smoke and bacon grease. The artist flicks
ash into a saucer. “The moon landing was faked, you know,” he says.
“It was all done in a Hollywood set.” I take a sip of coffee. “How do
you know?” I ask. “Space has billions of stars, right?” He says. “So,
where are they in those so-called lunar photos?” He glances at me.
“By the way, it was really cute—the way that you said you were a virgin.
You almost had me fooled.” He winks at me over his coffee cup.
Lying beside the artist, I can hear the pop-pop of faraway gunshots.
He snores and turns from me as I grope for his hand. In my dreams,
I’m pierced by a shard of light, and a shadow slides out of me. Newly
born, it gazes up at me with millions of glistening eyes.
“You’re right about those pills,” the artist says. “You don’t need them,
and neither do I.” He takes them from my hand, tosses them into the
garbage disposal. The world undulates in blue and purple under the
full moon. The artist straddles me. He presses my trembling head
forward. “Now, open up.” He says.
Snow swirls outside my apartment as I read the artist’s reply to my
break-up letter. “Perhaps we’re like two rockets passing each other in
the night. Goodbye, sweet lady, goodbye.” Nausea ripples through me
as I remember his half-lidded stare, choking flesh. Passing cars hiss
through puddles, murky sheen veiling the earth.
In my dreams, I’m floating through the night sky. As I undulate
through vapor, my arms and legs trail behind me—luminous tendrils.
The woman in the moon weeps, hiding her face. Clouds crinkle under
the weight of her tears.
As I swallow pill after pill, the world tumbles back into place. Colors
throb through a hazy prism. In the coffee shop, the new man holds my
hand. “Do you like me?” he asks, tilting his head to gaze into my eyes.
On the napkin, I connect the dots between cookie crumbs—I love him,
I love him not, I love him. Sunlight sears into my eyelids.
The new man proposes to me in the bookstore’s travel section, against
the backdrop of the Mediterranean Sea, the Sahara Desert at nightfall.
Above his bowed head, the moon gleams from the front of a travel
guide. Holding out the ring, the new man’s hands tremble. He encases
my hands his—mouth warm, tongue heavy as velvet. “I’ve never kissed
anyone like that before.” he says.
On our wedding night, I help the new man unzip my dress, unhook
my bra. Domed lights of the hotel room buzz and sparkle. As I
embrace him, blue and gold blossoms behind my eyes. Shadows part
and tear like petals. Gazing at me, the new man kisses my mouth, and
eases on top of me. A dark jaw clamps around my throat. Bile scorches
my mouth. “Please, let’s stop,” I say. The new man pauses, and slides
a rough hand between us. “Yes.” He says. He gazes into me and
smiles. “Anything you want.”
While the new man sleeps, I weep in front of the mirror. “I don’t know
what to do.” I say. The moon rises above our window. It traces my
luminous belly, dimples of my buttocks, my thighs, the darkened slope
between my legs. The woman in the moon sways, her hair trailing into
the Milky Way. She floats downwards, pressing her face to mine. I get
into bed, rousing the new man with my kisses.
I watch a line streak across the pregnancy test—it luminesces blue over
blue. The roundness stirs, my body shifting on its axis. Outside, a car
passes— love, love love streams from its speakers, its open windows. The
emptied moon rests in the branches of an elm—the edges of clouds,
Sayuri Ayers’ prose and poetry have appeared in Hobart, The Pinch, Gold Wake Live, and others. In 2016 Green Bottle Press released Sayuri’s chapbook, “Radish Legs, Duck Feet.” The New American Press included her work in their 2017 anthology, “New Poetry from the Midwest.” Sayuri lives in Columbus, Ohio with her husband and young son.