Three Pieces by Alison Zheng

Portrait
He was only nineteen and there were multiple mouths to feed. It didn’t seem to matter which direction he turned— in China, they all felt like dead ends. Everyone says he went to Gam Saan, but nobody knows what he did there. When he stopped sending money home, they assumed he died. They left his portrait on the mantle of our ancestral home. I visited it for the first-time last winter. When mom opened the doors, she instructed me: Say hello to Tai Gong. In silence, we bowed to a drawing of him as a teenage boy. Are you curious about what his life was like? No. What’s the point?

                                                                              daily wage: one dollar

                                                                              half pound rice, half pound fish

                                                                              barrels of hot tea

At the foot of Mount Tamalpais, he worked on the crookedest railroad in the world. He stood next to the Pacific Ocean and graded the route. He ate miner’s lettuce and laid the rails. He thought fried oysters with eggs were weird. After six months, he moved to China Camp Village near San Pablo Bay. There, he learned the magic of shrimping. There, he met a barber. He found himself more handsome without a cue. He took comfort in other lonely Chinese men. After a while, shrimp exporting was outlawed. 

                                                                              boil in salt brine 

                                                                              dry in the sun and loosen 

                                                                              remove meat from shell

State Park

I.

Ayala Cove. Isla de los Angeles. Camp Reynolds. Fort McDowell. Immigration Station. 

拘留營. The Wooden House. Eucalyptus. Deer. Chinks. State Park. The best view of 

the Golden Gate Bridge. Where a white guy once dumped me. 

II. 

How old are you?

What is your husband’s
name & occupation?

Can you please disrobe
for the medical examination?

We’d like for you to draw a
map of your village.

Your parents live on the
west side? Are you certain

And this is the house of
your in-laws?

Which part of the house
do they keep their altar in?

How often did you & your
husband have sex before
he immigrated here?

How large is his penis?

You had sex twice a week,
& you don’t know?

Ok. Let’s break for lunch
& resume at 1:30PM.

Nineteen.

Yee Tet Ming.
Merchant.

[
]

I’ll try my best,
thank you.

I… I don’t know.

Yes.

In the kitchen. It’s
separate. It’s a shack.

Twice a week, after
I was done with my
chores.

I never measured it.

He left so long ago.
… Please.

Thank you, sirs.

Fifteen.

A Gam Saan haak. He’s
thirty-five. We’ve never met.

I would rather sink to the
bottom of the Pacific Ocean.

[
]

All I remember are my
baby sister’s hands.

I wish they wouldn’t spit
when they speak to me.

They stare at me like I’m
lying. Like, I’m a criminal.

Fuckers.

This is in their records too? 

[Red washes over]

[They escort her back to the
wooden barracks, where she
contemplates suicide again]

III.

Yee Po was deported to Hong Kong. She sold 

rice on the streets until she saved up enough 

money for a ferry ride back to Zhongshan. 

Later in life, Yee Po & Yee Gong immigrated to 

Gam Saan together. She let everyone, including

her family, believe that this was her first time. 

From My Grandmother’s Eldest Sister

Note: Historians say that most of the found poetry from Angel Island were written by men. 

Inside the wooden house:

one blanket, yellowed greens.

Outside: mother’s anxieties, 

hungry sisters, fog.

I want to eat gai lan. 

I never look for the moon.

       – Gui Yi from Zhongshan 

About Alison Zheng

Alison Zheng (she/her) was born & raised on Ohlone land (San Francisco). Her work has been published in or is forthcoming from Francis House, giallo lit, The Westchester Review, Rabbit: A Journal For Non-Fiction Poetry, & more. She’s a poetry reader for Non.Plus Lit.