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
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.