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.
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
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.