Light in Hand, Liza Hollenbeck

my mother dreams me unafraid 

and wedded. don’t sleep with boys until you need to 

marry a citizen. in my sleep, i dream of girls 


in skirts fluttering like pages 

from a fallen passport. 

marriage in mandarin is derived 


from the root words to be the cause 

and to faint

a feminine character borders each word, cradling 


a family’s affliction in its arms.      

marriage: fragile as our women, always unloved 

in our language. i come from a line

-age of women who love everyone


except themselves. my grandmother 

stitching pillowcases from her own skin 

for her children to sleep 

at night. my mother 


tracing our photos with smoke 

to keep officers from finding my face. 


maybe the origin of a family collapsing is the story of how we were mothered.


before the war, my grandmother apprenticed as a fortune teller 

in her village. she believes 

our bodies are heirlooms passed down from our ancestors. 

we never belong to ourselves—only 


to the women who gave themselves up

for us. i am as old as my grandmother 

when she married my grandfather 

during the war. an ocean away, 


i wear my mother’s old skirts

draw burgundy lines 

around my lips and confess 

how much i love women in the mirror. 


i don’t understand gender but i know what it means to be gendered. 


i whisper all the names 

of girls i wish i could love 

—my own is stuck in my throat. 


invisible daughterfucker. 


my love illegible in my grandmother’s 

country. my body illegal 

in this one. i don’t understand 


womanhood, but i know what it means 

to be born bleeding. i belong to a blood


-line of sacrifice. our bright faces bridled 

in shame. i know love 


breeds desire. everyone makes a religion 

of romance 

so i repent and make one 

of regret. what i want—


a ceremony that doesn’t end 

in burning. a lover without 

the smoke. a language 

where daughter doesn’t rhyme 

with slaughter. i want a lover 


but need to undress

before the law first. 

marriage meant nothing to me 


once it turned into a tool 

of the state, my only way 

out of asylum.        


what use is sex 


if i can only love my body 

in its grief? 


every woman i love by birth or by choice unable to love me back whole.

every night i fall asleep into a blooming bed of ghosts.


somewhere 12 time zones away, 

my grandmother waits for me 

to call her back. i wake up 

crying, twisted between the sheets, 

my body curled around 

a confession i don’t know 


how to break. i reach for 

my loved ones and nationhood 

guts my body 


of paper. i reach for a lover and daughterhood 

sinks a hook in my mouth, drags me by the throat.

About the Author

Yujae Chen · University of California

Yujane Chen is a 4th-year undergraduate in Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley. “MATRIMONY / MATRIARCHY” was previously published by the Adroit Journal. Their work also appears in Black Warrior Review, Bettering American Poetry, and others.

About the Artist

Liza Hollenbeck · Northwestern Michigan College

Liza Hollenbeck is a printmaker and aspiring artist who studies at Northwestern Michigan College. She co-organized the First Annual NMC BBQ Printmaking Sale in May 2019, has had two of her pieces on display in the Dennos Museum, one of which won first place in the NMC Art Show in 2019. “Light in Hand” first appeared in NMC Magazine.

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