War Bride

White men always want her
to be a war bride. They want
my father to have carried her home
from Nam like a photo
of a pin-up girl, creased and stained,
but still pretty in that voiceless way.
They want my mother
to speak broken English when she speaks at all,
to stumble over her letters and transpose
her idioms and look confused
when they laugh at her speech. They want her
to shuffle her walk and wear her hair
in one long, raven braid
the length of her spine, like a twisting rope
for my father to pull when she tries to run.

But the truth is, my mother
was born in northern California, met my father
in a textile plant in New Jersey.
Truth is, I am a second generation
Chinese-American, which makes me
a second generation war bride,
a native of atomic power
and evasive maneuvers.
It means I learned early how to scream
like a pinned-down girl,
how to break language
before it could break me,
how to transpose the words
that would keep me
laughing and confused.
It means I wear my hair shorn like a monk
or a warrior, so I cannot be caught,
and I twist my spine into one long stride
to walk fartherand farther from the wedding
of whiteness, from the men
who would make me their bride.

:: Jennifer Perrine, in Gertrude (2001)

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