A 구미호 Invites a Soucouyant to a Picnic’, Rufina Jinju Kang

Illustrations © 2018 Eric Asaris

For Kimberly

 [ Nine-tailed fox, © 2018 Eric Asaris ] Greetings and good health to you,
my sister, ma soeur, 언니,
so many miles away from me,
from one sojourner to another.
I am sending you lightning to rekindle your heart
and sugar to remove the bitterness left upon your tongue.

When you have healed enough to travel,
please cook a bowl of black-eyed peas and wrap it in a cloth,
then don your black gown embroidered with gold sequins,
tie the peas to your broom, catch a northward night wind,
and join me in my walled garden in the hidden hills.
Be sure to bring this letter with you.

The brass walls are thick and high,
the door invisible to anyone who lacks an invitation.
For you the door will swing wide open,
so walk inside and take the flagstone path between
laden fruit trees, tall tasseled maize, golden pumpkins,
milky cabbages, purple eggplants, and scarlet chilies.

You’ll find me beneath the ancient cedar tree
adorned with red lanterns like glowing apples.
I’ll be wearing my black hooded robe with a crimson sash,
spreading a fine carpet, plumping velvet cushions,
lighting a brazier, arranging night-blooming jasmine
in a celadon vase upon a hexagonal tray-table.

I’ll dance with joy to see you.
You’ll call me short; I’ll point out that you’re shorter.
We’ll laugh and remove the veils we wear almost all the time,
the ones that dim the rage in our eyes and blunt the retorts on our lips
as we encounter barbs, bad faith, and opportune amnesia—
the veils which most cannot see but which are there all the same.

We’ll embrace, breathe freely, speak freely, for
you’ll know that your skin is safe here with me
and I’ll know that my tails are safe here with you.
I’ll urge you to sit by the brazier and let its heat
melt the snowflakes from your thundercloud hair
as I pour you icewine into a silver goblet and serve our meal.

We’ll break bread warm from the hearth,
have eggplant and pumpkin roasted with cumin,
sip soup made from cabbages that grew by moonlight.
I’ll eat more than my fair share of the peas,
which you’ll pretend to find upsetting.
Dessert will be a basket of pomegranates and plums.

As I open the pomegranates for us,
their seeds will tumble out like polished rubies and we’ll feel rich.
I’ll brew us tea smelling of cinnamon and cloves
and we’ll watch the steam curl upward toward the stars,
forming sinuous mist dragons that vanish into the sky.
We’ll imagine where the dragons go, and what worlds they find.

Are we truly witches, unholy, loud, belligerent?
Or are those the names they give us because
they want servants who are grateful to serve,
content with crumbs, eager to forgive and forget unpaid debts,
while we demand what we’re owed
and refuse to be complicit in subjugations gross and subtle?

So be it: we are long-memoried, sharp-witted witches,
and our magic is truth-telling, balance-restoration—exhausting!
I crave someone who’ll look upon my nine tails
with tenderness and affection, and not terror or annoyance.
You deserve someone who’ll anoint your skin
with rainwater and rose petals instead of violating it with coarse salt.

We fight to protect others but who fights for us?
So, after our meal, let us draw a circle with sand and salt,
arrange marigolds and chilies in pretty patterns,
light candles in the cardinal directions,
clasp hands, and call across the oceans and the centuries
for strength and succor from our beloved dead and from

Εκάτη, who guides sojourners at crossroads and thresholds,
Tonantzin, who feeds the hungry and resurrected herself with a new name,
바리공주, who knows the way to the underworld and back again,
観音, who chooses to help others rather than to look away,
Durga, who achieves the impossible and liberates the besieged,
Inanna, who does not rest until justice has been served to the violator,

Isis, who loves and restores what has been broken,
Nephthys, who loves her sister and runs to her aid, and
Oya, who wears the whirlwind and commands the storm.
Let us feel sunlight rising inside our bones
and steel humming in our spines
as our ancestors gather and enfold us in their arms.

Then let us sit and sew with our convened foremothers,
stitching names and stories into patchwork cloaks of power
to hide us from those who hunt us,
to sift those who have honor from those who are hollow,
to keep us safe and whole while we curl in uneasy sleep,
for there are too many who seek your skin for spoils, my tails for trophies.

Let us have faith that shrapnel can be the seeds of pearls,
and that what has been shattered can be mended
even if the pieces must form a new pattern, a new path.
Let us trust that the flagstones beneath our feet
will bring us to each other no matter what shape we next wear
just as they have already done in this vast world, this fugitive life.

Hummingbird-warrior and sister-shifter,
you are so precious a treasure
I refuse to lose you, even to yourself,
for we have many picnics left. I am sending you
lightning to remind you that you are the lightning
and sugar to remind you that true sisterhood is sweet.

© 2018 Rufina Jinju Kang

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