Gold Mountain

This morning—jeweled mannequins
In glass in a frame. Shadows. Bergdorf’s, Saks
5th Avenue. A dress of Coco Chanel an opera
A ballet A world away—
Lower East Side. I hear louder & louder
Faster, faster Delancey, Mott Street, rising
Above the hum the spinning the throbbing of
The bobbin-winder. Sweatshop din. Women
From Hong Kong, Mong Kok, choked in demonic
Heat. The fiber-dust-heat. 12 hours seated: 
In shirt-waist-dust. No break no ventilation
& Stooped over her Singer, Mother
                                                       —I never saw her
—There.  Her satin-scented hands
The faint scent of ginger & almond—
Fingers quickly—feeding
                                    —the machine—fingers
Cutting up garments, fragments How
Could it have been each piece, pennies
To the tick of the clock?
                                                      I am 9—
Before there are words to know
What it means to be 9Happy & did not know
What being happy meant.  Or innocence—

Standing there, Midtown, outside
Harold’s Broadway & 14th—where she
Did take me. Couture wool scraps. Ribbons.
Bullion fringes. Faux suede
                                                         Fabric— fleshy—
Appliqués. Mother’s eyes in the window
Flashing: looking in. Always constructing—
The same French coat, draping it over Jackie O’s
Shoulder; would it look runway-stunning
On me? On her shoulder too why not
—On hers? Denim In 12 metallic versions
I clutched My mother’s arm clutched them all the
Beaded Trimmings—
Followed her inside where eyes
                                                          Wide: dilated—lives—
Yards & yards piled high: bolts of
Dupioni, silk-shantung. Charmeuse.
I caressed them with my fingers. 
After my mother, fumbled into their folds
Fibers creases—infinite
                                        Dresses: of vermilion,
Gold. The palpable—
Hem—of the city Gum San Gold
Mountain America I was a child &
                                                          Everything! was there—
Mother’s taffeta dresses: hand-sewn
& Sewn—for me. Had I known, consigned
To the stars. And then even not
That, nothing better than those dresses that dressed
—Her wounds. What did I know? Only that her signature
Begins in the looping style: tiny embroidered ladybugs or
Butterflies swooping down
                                              From another—realm
I think I saw heaven—where she
Was, & for awhile & in her dreams: There-then
                                                                —As in : moments: silences
Sewn. Threaded: each seam, each
Crease. The recesses. Over & over the way
—A breath—is held; is
                                   —A sharp pain—stitched

Copyright © 2020 by Emily Yong. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 23, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.