Two Poems | Esther Lin

2 mins read


Once she began spitting, 
foam dashing the windshield 
like snow, I reached sideways 

from the driver’s seat and volleyed 
my fist against her breastbone. 
Twice. More than twice. 

Don’t hit me! 

She cried out in the voice 
that belonged to me those Sunday
evenings when she opened 

the shower door and beat 
my face and chest with an open palm 
as soap and water ran. 

Now it was a game. 
We took turns, the mother demonstrating, 
the child mimicking. How to 

hurt a person in the way 
they allow. Every person allows 
for it, sooner or later. My mother 

was my first. 


The first book I bought 
with my own money. So I cried 
when she tore the garnet 
cover off. 

I had never seen anyone do that. 

She tore ten pages out
and tore those in half. 
She tore fast, her hands 
like well-trained dogs. 

My mother was saving my soul. 
She alone could protect me. 

The book held four hundred and two 
pages. Its back cover
Celtic knotwork you could feel 
when you ran your hand over it. 

The trash can smelled like fresh paper. 
Later that afternoon I peeled carrots 
for dinner over it. 

Esther Lin was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and lived in the United States as an undocumented immigrant for 21 years. She is the author of Cold Thief Place, which won the 2023 Alice James Award, and the chapbook “The Ghost Wife,” which won the 2017 Poetry Society of America Chapbook Fellowship. Most recently, she was an artist-resident at the T. S. Eliot House in Gloucester and Cité internationale, Paris. She was a 2019–20 Writing Fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center, Provincetown; a 2017–19 Wallace Stegner Fellow. She co-organizes the Undocupoets, which promotes the work of undocumented poets and raises consciousness about the structural barriers that they face in the literary community.