9.12 / December 2014

Five Poems

Angel Island Immigration Station

In a Wooden Building

So I wait on Angel Island,
this island of immortals.
The grass is dry and golden,
waves scour the headlands,
and the sea churns around me.
The children now a year older,
a year beyond their father,
another year without me.
Each day we knit in silence,
socks for the children,
hats for the parents,
and our words swirl in the sea.

A brush and a bottle of ink.
I took them when he died.
He loved to write.
What would he say if he were me?

I open the bottle.

I dip in the brush.

I write on the walls.

I tell the story of a widow
              alone in a prison at sea.
I tell the story of long nights
              wanting my children with me.
I imagine him in heaven,
I write to forget the tedium,
and maybe one day you’ll remember me.

The Waves

His father died
suddenly, leaving a sick wife
and four young girls.
He decided to go to America, stake
a claim on Golden Mountain,
and come back for me.

He wrote to me
of Angel Island, where officers
scrutinized his papers
and doctors
made him stand naked
as they inspected
his eyes. He built a business
selling groceries,
sent money home, and came back
to marry me.

I threw up on
the sea. He calmed me,
made love to me.
The first time I cried
silently. I had not been
with another man, but I knew
he had a woman.
What could I do? There was
no land in sight.

San Francisco.
The green hills
of late spring on the verge
of a golden splendor. The city
rose from the sea
veiled in a hazy blue.
They let him land
from the ship but I had to board
a ferry. They didn’t even
let us say goodbye.

There’s nothing
we can do. Foreign wife
of a Chinese merchant, your case
is automatically

At night I watch
the sea. I want its embrace,
cold, dangerous, overwhelming –
in these waves
I will finally be home.

The Walls Speak

The year I turned fourteen,
Father took me out of school.

I scrubbed the floors,
washed the clothes.

At night, by candlelight,
I snuck in my brother’s books,

dreaming of a faraway land
where I could read and write.


Here the fog obscures
the full moon and the stars.

The sea spins a song
of solitude and pain.

I wait for my turn to enter
the land of the free.

At night, by candlelight,
I write in a notebook I hide.


On the walls I see poems,
brushed in ink, carved on wood,

laments of lost women
stumbling in the world.

I read their stories
and weep.


Each time
I pick up the knife,

ready to etch my words
into the wood,

my hands tremble
and I step back.


At night I lie awake.
Will I always be a secret?

On the Boat

A fish tank in his room.

No fish,
only seaweed and water.

I imagined guppies
circling the glass, nowhere to go.

We knew we would part
in San Francisco.

I did not love him,
but for the first time in my life

I felt held.
These things I am not supposed to know.

Some nights I wonder where
he is.

Virtue Exam

Their voices blister my skin.
Denied. She must be a whore.
My face burns. I want to hide.
I am a wife, on my way home.

Teow Lim Goh's poetry, essays, and criticism have appeared or is forthcoming in Pilgrimage, Poecology, The Common Online, Guernica, The Rumpus, Open Letters Monthly, and The Philadelphia Review of Books, among other publications. She is completing a book of poems on the Angel Island Immigration Station.
9.12 / December 2014