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I Laugh

Chekhov showed me how.

Vanya cannot shoot his nemesis. He is nervous,

and inept besides. When my mother threw

a plate at me, I knew

what to do. I would fall in love

with men. Bundled by night

across their borders I studied their laws and ways, and citizen that I am, I obeyed

thrillingly. Even today, I brag, I laugh, No plates! Vanya is my countryman:

he cannot distinguish

between the woman he loves

and the man he hates.

When the curtain lifts I do not meet his eye

and he is cautious

not to receive my applause.



After she died people admitted

something might have gone awry.

Nerves, suggested one doctor;

narcissism, another. Over lunch

a cousin proposed, Your mother

had a difficult personality.

All true and didn’t matter. She

nourished us by nourishing us

she wrapped dumplings of crystal

shrimp, sliced heavy eggplants,

and fish, always one fish

gleaming among the meats and greens.

I hardly ate. It was too rich, too much

of everything. Which annoyed her.

Why won’t you accept what I offer?

I work so hard. Why? Why?

When my husband tells me

he loves me I hear her instead.


ESTHER LIN was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and lived in the United States as an undocumented immigrant for 21 years. She is a 2020 Writing Fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, a 2017–19 Wallace Stegner Fellow, and author of The Ghost Wife (Poetry Society of America 2017). Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Gulf Coast, Hyperallergic, the New England Review, Pleiades, Ploughshares, and elsewhere. Currently she organizes for the Undocupoets, which promotes the work of undocumented poets and raises consciousness about the structural barriers they face in the literary community.


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