I cut my mother’s hair every month since her hands went wild. They’re rabid, boomeranging around the room, returning every touch twice as hard, slapping her face when she’s asleep, ambushing mosquitoes, crawling under the sofa like rodents. I cut her hair shorter in the front than in the back. She likes asymmetry, the unevenness of things. She claims that’s why she fell in love with my father. He had one eye that was double-lidded and one that was single-lidded, one smaller than the other, which my mother called long-feng yan. Dragon-phoenix eyes. A sign of good luck. Eyes like coins, like currency, spending themselves empty. Every month, I spray my mother’s hair from the roots to the tips, trace the cowlick on her scalp, trim away the bleached-brittle ends. Unlike her, I prefer symmetry. I cut my own hair in a bob so abrupt that my friends call me a cartoon character. I like straight lines, pleats, windows that are perfectly square, cornered light. I don’t like things that hinge or open by themselves, like doors or mouths or pasts. The woman who taught me at cosmetology school had a haircut like my mother’s: asymmetrical, red highlights, bangs dangling over one eye. One day in class, she volunteered to be my practice-customer. I kept looking at her face in the mirror instead of at her hair, at my own hands, and so I nicked her by accident. The left ear-tip. I touched my tongue to her ear, sucked away the blood. It was instinct, I told her later, but she still expelled me. Said I needed to learn limits. How could I explain that whenever I saw blood, I could only imagine it inside my own mouth. That once, days after I spoke back to my father and he slapped me, one of my eyes was swollen shut and the other remained open, how I couldn’t bear to look at the asymmetry of my eyes in the mirror, one dragon, one phoenix, wondering what woman could fall in love with looking this way.
K-Ming Chang (b. 1998) is a Kundiman fellow and a Lambda Literary Award finalist. Her debut novel BESTIARY is forthcoming from One World / Random House on September 8, 2020. Her poems have been anthologized in Ink Knows No Borders, Best New Poets 2018, Bettering American Poetry Vol. 3, and the 2019 Pushcart Prize Anthology.
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