Teow Lim Goh
In journeys we find stories. Stories
give us a sense of our place in the world.
To limit this exploration
is to confine us in a truncated version of who we can be.
As a girl, I pored over atlases, imagining
adventures I could not have.
Now I know that above the trees, at the top
of the world, plants survive the arctic winters by
revealing little of themselves: their leaves and flowers
are smaller than my fingernails.
Their roots reach deep into the soil, storing food
for the months of whipping snow.
And when I try to recall my life growing up,
I see nothing. Not nothing –
I can see the house I lived in, the schools
I went to, the gardens I walked in the evenings.
What I don’t remember is how it all felt,
the textures of the sea and sky.
Looking at the Sky
I want to touch the sky.
Here, where the mountains
still hold snow, I walk past the pine
forests and reach
for a place beyond the dirt
of the earth. I look up and see
the blue of the sky –
or so I like to think, for it is often
the grey of clouds heavy with thunder
and rain. I keep going,
even though my feet hurt and
I will never arrive at the sky.
It is easy to think of this place as nowhere.
Grasslands. Sagebrush steppes. Cliffs that fold
like the pages of a book. Old coal towns
that linger in the dust.
The open spaces
of this basin and range invite me
to think about my life, where I have been
and where I want to go –
who else I could be. I watch
dark clouds gather on the plains, promising
rain that never seems to arrive.
At the tropical aviary, I wanted to listen
to the birds, look
at their splendid feathers.
I find instead silence. Macaws
hang their heads.
African janas nestle
on the ground. Nicobar pigeons drink
from a pool. The birds
are beautiful, but
they live in a cage. When I step back
into the city, I hear
the songs of birds.
They are hidden in the young leaves
of spring, but I recognize
the voices of robins
and blackbirds. These birds
may be ordinary, but
their voices are full of spirit.
And we will not remember everything.
We invent to fill the gaps, to make a story
with which we can live.
We invent: this is who I am.
Teow Lim Goh: "I am the author of Islanders (Conundrum Press, 2016), a volume of poems on the history of Chinese exclusion at the Angel Island Immigration Station. My work has been featured in Tin House, Catapult, PBS NewsHour, Colorado Public Radio, and The New Yorker. I live in Denver."