Split

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 bắp chuối for the hogs.
 
Her hair dips to the small of her back
as if smeared in black
and polished to a shine.
 
She wears a deep 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,
point at their helmets
 
and then at her hair.
All they want is a small lock—
something for a bit of good luck.
 
Days later, my mother
is sent to the city
for safekeeping.
 
She will return home once,
only to be given away
to my father.
 
In the pictures,
the cake is sweet
and round.
 
My mother’s hair
which spans the length
of her áo dài
 
is long, washed, and uncut.

Cathy Linh Che, "Split" from Split.  Copyright © 2014 by Cathy Linh Che.  Reprinted by permission of Alice James Books, www.alicejamesbooks.org.
Source: Split (Alice James Books, 2014)