Serrina Zou

How I have only witnessed white
women die & return to haunt as ghosts. How ghosts can only
be white.

Colored Ghosts

after K-Ming Chang

In our backyard, we bury all our ancestors’ bones
beneath tombstones of crushed moonstone & alabaster

willow. I ask Mama why we don’t light torches to their
vacated bodies, smoke the sky into ash. I pluck the answer

from the lilt of her tongue. I have her last name,
etched like a grave marker. Somehow, my children will too.

At church funerals, we are asked why I belong to her body
& not my fathers’. I say our ancestors willed this.

But the truth is, in my family, to wring a father’s name
unto a daughter is to launder her spirit to a foreign earth,

to bury her body before its birth. This language, lost in translation.
This loss, a fistful of cremated earth bruised into fruit.

What they never teach in English class is the difference
between murder & martyr. How murder is both noun & verb.

How murder moves. The closest a martyr has come to moving
is in stages, like life. Like the shadow of Mama threaded

by ghosts whiter than the harvest moon on the first night
Chang’e surrendered her humanity. Like women, always

arching their backs in bowstrings for men. Mama, my mother:
the Chang’e to my father’s Hou Yi, a blot of light

drenching the nine arrowed suns of heaven in scar tissues.
Mama, our mother: a mortal playing Nüwa, birthing creation

from a hemorrhage of meat. In the altar of this Christian god,
she is holiness in translation, the Queen Mother of the Western skies.

She wets her lips with immigrant tears, crying a river of moonlight
& breathes me into a flotation device born from liminal diaspora.

For years, she pretends I am not hers, says the American
word for daughter rhymes too much with slaughter. America:

a rootless burial, unending. How I have only witnessed white
women die & return to haunt as ghosts. How ghosts can only

be white. If what she says is true — that burial is beginning,
then I am the beginning of her end, evidence that blood

colors the body more than a patriarch’s name. Evidence
that only a woman can give blood & never a man.

Serrina Zou is a Chinese-American writer from San Jose, California, a 2019 California Arts Scholar in Creative Writing, a 2020 Foyle Commended Young Poet, a two-time Scholastic National Medalist in Poetry, and a 2021 National YoungArts Finalist in Writing/Poetry. Her work appears or is forthcoming in the National Poetry QuarterlyTinderbox Poetry Journalunder the gum treeRust+Moth, and elsewhere. She will attend Columbia University in the fall of 2021.


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