Chinese Laundry, San Francisco 1884
The Pacific, like a banker with an unpaid note,
stands between him and happiness.
play in a village thousands of miles
He writes long letters in the evenings
by a slumping candle. He washes laundry
seven days a week.
He was a scholar in China. Now
he washes shirts by hand. When he irons
he's as homesick as any miner.
He keeps his wife's picture by his bed
in the back
and rarely goes out. Loneliness
should be kept from the public.
Only a sense
of decency keeps him from writing home
more often. It would be pathetic,
he thinks, for a man to weep openly.
Or to write letters relentlessly.
But he must do something. His daughters
are growing older. They are growing faster
than his small savings.
From the back of the laundry he can hear
the Pacific knocking against the pier.
It urges him to work harder. Piles
of laundry grow in the corners,
and are always there,
like stalagmites growing from a cave's
floor. He stacks the clean clothes
in small bundles as meticulously
as if they were his daughters'
clothes. He works deep into dusk.
He saves his money to pay for his family's
passage. What else can
a man of letters