content warning for mental illness and suicide
in china there is a kind of ghost called an èguǐ and her hunger is made of desire and greed. i am looking for her and though it is well past the seventh month i am waiting anyway. to trace my fingers along the walls and walk through the fall chill at night. to wear a favorite red sweater and snap selfies in mirrors in hopes of catching her like a bad cold.
this section’s tone or style may not reflect the encyclopedic tone used on wikipedia. this section does not cite any sources. but this section is an invitation for you and for me. though it will be deleted in months or in days.
the romance of going up in flames is a strong one. fitting that we invented paper two thousand years ago so we could send it up to heaven all alight. building paper palaces of all things dearly loved so we could show our dearly departed how brightly they would blaze. you set it aflame because you love it so much. and as if she knows what i am thinking the moon is full in a fire sign this month.
catch me now at 1 am. lying in bed burning with fever and wondering if i might waste away come morning. wondering who will show up for my mourning. and dreaming about evaporating through my pores a cloud of incense smoke in my empty skin. about becoming smaller and smaller until my body is nothing at all. because after all my mental health is the best it’s been in years. and i am a ghost slashed through with desire. my demands tucked away in my ribcage. sitting swelling in my throat too vast to fit in my mouth.
and i am hungry for the names of my great grandparents and the shape of their dialects against my teeth. hungry for all the meals i have skipped over the years. hungry to take back all the times i insisted i was fine. imagine this frustration and despair burning an acid puddle through my belly my sheets my genealogy. imagine how many caustic burns there must be on the leaves of that imaginary family tree. somewhere back and back again there must be a love story. maybe a ghost story.
rumor has it that ghosts must marry too or they will wander this world made of desire and greed. and so when the eldest son died young they bought the rights to some long-buried woman to be his forever after. shook off the earth dismantled her body piece by piece and performed the ceremony over her borrowed bones. maybe he collapsed building a gold mountain railroad maybe crumpled before a communist tank. no matter what it was it will be resuscitated again and again in the mouths the dreams of his parents his brothers. before it is lost to generations and time. in decades or in years. in months or in days.
so i place myself out as an offering on the roadside. so i scavenge coins and scatter paper money. so i offer up the remnants of my birthday cake and all the family meals i could not swallow.
and i wonder if her desire her greed is another way of saying her love for the shape and weight of existence. if what she hungers for is a body she once called her own that now lines someone else’s grave. because before there were secret fans and golden orchid societies there were sworn sisters there were marriage resisters there were girls who would die for each other rather than bind themselves to a man long dead in their eyes.
take my body anyway. i give you permission now even though you didn’t ask even though ghosts never ask. before it was taken by family nation empire i saved it for you.
maybe everything i touch turns to dust goes up in flames falls to pieces. or maybe this is all a fever dream maybe a wild full moon illusion. but it’s true that these breaths are only temporary ones after all.
so tonight i’m thinking about my own vast materiality and all the parts of me that fray and fragment at its edges. thinking about the way my flesh wraps around my bones the way my intercostals string together my ribs. under the weight of skin and breast and bone and fever i’m still breathing though i wish again and again that i were not.
this is all a chemical quirk. this is all in my head. this is all an inheritance that i can’t get out of my flesh. burning incense won’t divest me of this inconvenient body but it might show me a way out a way through between the netting of its smoke. so dig up my bones because you love me so much. so sell them for whatever they might be worth to anyone willing to pay for a dead girl speechless. then light me a lotus lantern so i can follow its fire home.
Art by the author, Jessica Jiang.
Edited by Kristine Mar.