In Maxine Hong Kingston’s verse memoir, we are carried along in the flow of the author’s experiences as a Chinese-American writer, mother, teacher, wife, and time traveler, as she brings us to China and back again, contemplating her multiple home landscapes, and even reconsiders the fate of Fa Mook Lan, the “woman warrior” whose story she popularized a generation ago. In the excerpt below, we see Maxine as another kind of woman warrior – a peace marcher, being arrested on the sidewalk outside the White House in 2003, along with other women writers and protesters.
The Metropolitan Police, the men, stood
in one-line formation. The women, we,
the demonstrators, drew one another close.
We were a bouquet knot of pink roses.
How can it be that all the cops are men,
and all for Peace women? I can’t live
in such a world. I don’t want to keep
living out the myth that men fight
and women mother. We regressed—the junior
high dance. One boy crossed
the wide floor, chose one girl,
escorted her back to the other side, where
he arrested her. “My wife
is gonna kill me,” said a black cop;
“I’m arresting Alice Walker.” “Don’t hold
hands with me,” said a white cop,
shaking off his partner, who was smiling up
at him; “Don’t take my arm either.”
They had each one of us stand by herself
alongside the van, and took our pictures.
“Quit smiling. What are you smiling for?
This is an arrest.” This is your mug shot,
not your prom photo. I was smiling from
happiness; my government will not disappear me;
the tarp was but backdrop for shooting pix!
And the beautiful pink aura was still upon me.
My cop and I did not speak. A woman
officer in casual uniform, no gun,
took my purse, hair clips, pink poncho,
my earrings, and put them in a plastic bag.
Ready for handcuffing, I presented
my hands, wrists together, in front,
but my arresting officer signaled: in back.
I won’t be able to write, to touch, to catch
myself, and will fall on my face. I turned about,
held my arms behind me as high as I could,
bending way forward, making my gestures
large for the witnesses to see. Handcuffs
in this age of new plastics work like the ties
for bread and trees. My arrester could
have tightened the cable-tie so that it cut
into the skin. The hands turn blue, burst.
These police were kind to tie us loosely.
Our belongings taken, our pictures taken,
handcuffed, we were made to get into
a paddy wagon, about 8 per wagon.
There are cages, like dog cages, between
the front seat and the side benches. I sat
in the middle of a bench, my shoulders touching
women’s shoulders beside me, my legs touching
women’s legs before me. Women outside
pounded, drummed on the van. Through the windshield,
we could see them applauding us. Somebody said,
“There’s my daughter.” The van started up;
the crowd parted, let the van through.
It got quiet. We were driving away from
the magic. The rose light went out.
Excerpt from I LOVE A BROAD MARGIN TO MY LIFE © 2011 by Maxine Hong Kingston. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.