MIDWEST MONKEY: Sun Wukong Incarnate

Jasmine An shares her notes from the field in her monthly column Midwest Monkey.

A column called “Midwest Monkey” would not be complete without at least once acknowledging Sun Wukong, who, in his various forms, gave this small project its name.

In the Chinese epic Journey to the West, Sun Wukong the Monkey King is imprisoned by Buddha underneath a mountain for 500 years as a penalty for gambling his freedom against the chance to rule the world and losing.

Meet Jiú, a.k.a. my neighbor’s pet monkey, a.k.a. the world’s most vengeful monkey, who I am convinced is an incarnation of Sun Wukong serving out his punishment trapped in mortal form tied by a red rope to a tree across the street from my house.

Jiú is fond of eggplant, disdains bananas and apples, roughhouses with the neighborhood dogs, once grabbed one of my neighbor’s glasses from his face and threw them into the dirt, bites unrepentantly, and often paces around the foot of his tree or chews at the knots of his rope.

Often I’m tempted to secretly free him in the night. But one afternoon not long ago, he escaped without my assistance. While taking out the trash, I saw him running over the rooftop of the carpentry shop that sits next to his tree. Instead of disappearing into the tangle of trees and houses where it would be impossible to find, let alone capture, him, he chose to leap down from the roof to charge another one of my neighbors as she drove past on her motorbike, even leaping onto her back and biting her shoulder [1] before his owner grabbed him away and tied him to the tree once again.

Charging monkeys growl, a noise reminiscent of gravel and feral dogs. Though Jiú is only the size of an infant, I have rarely seen a more terrifying sight. Perhaps it should only be expected: a vengeful god is a terrifying thing to behold. It is a good reminder that Sun Wukong, who I regard as my muse of sorts, has his darknesses, as do all trickster gods. But I am also reminded: who wouldn’t feel enraged when tied to a tree day in and day out, especially a monkey or a god, both accustomed to having life’s puzzles unravel under their clever fingers.

Jiú has turned that vengeful side on me at times. He once grabbed my hand instead of the fruit I offered and pulled it almost into his mouth, leaving me with a couple scratches and a rabies paranoia that lasted until his owner reassured me he’d had his shots. Other times, he has thrown sections of PVC pipe in my direction, or jumped, swinging on the end of his rope in an arc just short of intersecting with my path.

When Guanyin, the goddess of mercy, freed Sun Wukong from his mountain, she also imprisoned him anew; bound by her magic circlet, he was forced to obey the orders of a human priest. Jiú wants nothing of Guanyin’s from me, offering teeth when I offer bribes. I watch him set his teeth into his rope and get the feeling that he will free his own self again. Either that or wait out the 500 years full of terrible patience and the knowledge that one day the wait will end.


[1] Thankfully, the bite was not bad and he has had his rabies, etcetera, shots.

Jasmine An is a queer Chinese-American who hails from the Midwest. A 2015 graduate of Kalamazoo College, she has also lived in New York City and Chiang Mai, Thailand, and she studied poetry, urban development, and blacksmithing. Her chapbook Naming the No-Name Woman was selected as the winner of the Two Sylvias Press Chapbook Prize. Her poetry has recently appeared or is forthcoming in HEArt Online, Stirring, Heavy Feather Review, and Southern Humanities Review. Her soulmate and forever muse is Sun Wukong, the Monkey King. As of 2016, she can be found in Chiang Mai continuing her study of the Thai language.

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