Denver Poet Imagines The Lost Voices Of Female Chinese Immigrants

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<p>(Courtesy&nbsp;Kit Hedman)</p>
<p>Denver poet Teow Lim Goh.</p>
Photo: Denver poet Teow Lim Goh
Denver poet Teow Lim Goh.

Writing on the walls of an immigrant detention center inspired Denver poet Teow Lim Goh. This was the Angel Island Immigration Station in San Francisco Bay, where Chinese people coming to America were detained and interrogated in the early 1900s.

As they waited, the detainees wrote poetry on the walls. The poems in the men's barracks are still there, but the women's were destroyed in a fire. In her debut collection of poetry, "Islanders," Goh imagines what what the poems in the women's barracks may have been.

Goh spoke with Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner.

Read a poem from "Islanders":

"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? 

THE WALLS SPEAK from ISLANDERS by Teow Lim Goh. Copyright © 2016 by Teow Lim Gogh. Published by Conundrum Press, a Division of Samizdat Publishing Group, LLC. Reprinted with permission.