RUMPUS POETRY BOOK CLUB EXCERPT: 瞑目/Close Eye by Paisley Rekdal


Our May 2023 Rumpus Poetry Book Club selection is Paisley Rekdal‘s West: A Translation, a hybrid collection of poems that respond to an anonymous Chinese poem carved into the walls of the Angel Island Immigration Station where Chinese migrants to the United States were detained during the Chinese Exclusion Act. Read an excerpt below and subscribe by April 15 to the Poetry Book Club to receive this title and an invitation to an exclusive conversation with the author via Crowdcast.


瞑目/Close Eye

When I was five a man
found me on my corner, asked
in German if I was hungry. And when
I told him yes he took my hand
and led me to St Dominic’s where there
was bread and milk and sometimes meat, where there
was Daisy who snapped her fingers
in matron’s face and said that she was sick
of looking after little
boys like me. She said it in

American but I was German
then and she was not
my mother she said but pushed
a sandwich for me anyway through the gate
and made me wear
a woolen cap that scratched my ears
and wrapped a ribbon through the tears
in my knees so my legs wore lines
of silk. And she held my hand
at the depot where they took us
and called me little to the others
on the train but I could hear the whispers
by our door each night
and feel the cold
hard knob of coins she knotted
in her skirt come morning. Silver
for the color of your mother’s
eyes she sang as we crossed the plains
but I do not remember
what my mother ever looked like.

And she taught me a song
and she taught me a dance
and she taught me to speak a piece of poetry
to the farmers at the depot
where we were dropped and say
mother in American
if a woman ever looked at us and I thought
someone from the crowd would take us both
but one took her and Dan
took me and here I am

with the goats I learned to milk,
the heavy pail I do not spill, my mouth
full of words said the way they like them so
I never get the belt. I have a puppy here
and chores, all meals. The streets
are dirt and when it rains it comes as mud.
There are no crowds, no coins, no ribbons
at my knees. They were white
I remember as the stairs
I spend my Sundays
sweeping. There is a stain
I don’t get out no matter if Dan helps me scrub.
You have to shut your eyes
to a lot of dirt out here Dan winks
and touches my head
and sometimes calls me son.




瞑目/Close Eye” from WEST: A TRANSLATION, copyright 2023 by Paisley Rekdal, used by permission of Copper Canyon Press,

Learn more about The Rumpus Book Club here. More from this author →