Back to Issue Twenty-Nine.

Matrimony / Matriarchy

Finalist for the 2019 Adroit Prize for Poetry

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.

Yujane Chen is a poet, student organizer, teaching artist, and queer migrant alien from Taiwan. They are a member of the 2018-2019 CalSLAM Team and the curator of Dispatches From The Stars, a literary space for migrant artists of color. Their work appears in Black Warrior Review, the Shade JournalFigure 1, and others. A Kundiman Fellow and a Pink Door Fellow, they are a Capricorn sun and an expert pancake flipper living in the Bay Area, where they are currently earning a B.A. in Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley. They believe their revolution begins with listening.

Photo Credit: Margarita Corporan.


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