Give me precision if only for the most finite of tasks,
the shallowest of missions: to wear each thrift store,
each flea market garment like second skin until
I hear the breath above each stitch, what
accelerated the heart at the spindle, what
clouded the lung, what caught in the whirring
machine, who found it in themselves to sing.
Did their fingers, too, callus with needlework
until they lost their whorls, like Mrs. Wong’s?
When time came to ‘naturalize,’ her fingers had no prints
to prove who she was. Silver cotton, hemp, tencel, flax,
petroleum and army of polymers, feed my greed
the ghosts of each thread, soft and arsenic.
Note: The poem makes reference to the story of the Wongs, a Chinese American family who lived in the 1970s at 103 Orchard Street, in N.Y.C., which is now part of the Tenement Museum.