Matrimony / Matriarchy
BY YUJANE CHEN
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.