Nanjing: an Elegy

Jia Yi (Jenny) Pan '22

When they came, you were brushing your hair that you cut the day before, feeling the edges prick your fingertips. The black had descended onto the floor like a waterfall, forming a pool of ink. You encased what had been your identity for the past twenty years in a shelf on the vanity for it to become an heirloom never inherited, for dust to be collected.

That night, we ate nuomi. It was our last meal. We swallowed the clumps of rice, ignoring the heat burning the roofs of our mouths. It rested heavy in our stomachs.

It will remain with you in the afterlife. 

“Won’t it drag us down?” Brother joked.

The edges of your mouth stretched while your eyes stared past through him. You saw our future. I couldn’t blame you. The adults became prophets when our “heroes” left. Our lives were as short as the grains of rice we stuffed our mouths with. 

Before the day came, you put on your lipstick for the last time. You smiled in the mirror, admiring your beauty in the moonlight. But deep inside, it disgusted you. The lipstick crawled across your body. Red sunk into the cracks of your lips, stiffening them.

When they came, the ground pulsated. The sparrows cried. The mirror cracked.

You were calm. I watched you stare out the window. Gray washed over your pupils and your body numbed.

Let’s play hide and seek. We copied you, not because we understood what you were doing but because you were always right.

Ghosts—you called them—hide from the Ghosts. So, we hid from the Ghosts.

They marched. Their figures tumbled over the horizon. They were more like zombies.

The siren sang. Screeches of laughter scratched our streets and walls. The symphony of strings played on. A hunt began.

They were not hunting for anyone in particular but life. They murdered trees, slaughtered flowers, and burned grass.

Before they got to you, you kissed my cheek, tattooing it. Now you’re as dirty as me.

I couldn’t tell if it was the slashing or screams that pierced my eardrums.

Their fingers branded your skin. Their teeth latched onto your flesh. They butchered your organs. It was child’s play, so you didn’t flinch. It was a show for the dead. 

Red flowed out of you, gifting the land with your life’s richness where another one will begin. Gloss glazed over your eyes. 

You smiled while I cried. It was the greatest form of defiance humankind has ever witnessed. 

Your lips were stained with the red of your lipstick you put on the day before. It sticks out in my memory like incense. It keeps on glowing.

A different orchestra continues.

My stomach is filled with nuomi thanks to you.

Art by Jia Yi (Jenny) Pan '22