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Split

By Cathy Lihn Che

I see my mother at thirteen
in a village so small,
it's never given a name.

Monsoon season drying up--
steam lifting in full-bodied waves.
She chops corn for the hogs,

her hair dipping to the small of her back
as if dipped in black
and polished to a shine.

She wears a side-part
that splits her hair
into two uneven planes.

They come to watch her,
Americans, Marines, just boys,
eighteen or nineteen.

With scissor-fingers,
they snip the air,
repeat cut,

point at their helmets
and then at her hair.
All they want is a small lock.

What does she say
to her mother
to make her so afraid?

Days later
she will be sent away
to the city for safekeeping.

She will return home
only once to be given away
to my father.

Her hair
was dark, washed,
and uncut.

Added: Monday, July 7, 2014  /  Used with permission.
Cathy Linh Che

Cathy Linh Che is a Vietnamese American poet from Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of Split (Alice James Books), winner of the Kundiman Poetry Prize. She has received awards from Poets & Writers, Hedgebrook, Poets House, LMCC'sWorkspace, and The Jerome Foundation.

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