A Marriage at Ancestral Hall in Sun Village

She will never return home. In their first meeting, he asks to touch her skin. To touch or to feel. He asks her to climb a ladder so that he may see her legs, whether a pig can walk through them. I imagine once she begins climbing the ladder, she cannot stop. If the 1906 earthquake had fallen a day later, he would have set sail across the ocean four years earlier and the matchmaker would not have called her name. Think of the particular light cast across her skin as she lifts her sleeve for him, as she ascends the ladder, perhaps gathering the hem of her dress in one hand. This light will take her from her country. She will have seven children in California. When she receives word of her mother’s death, she will climb on the roof and let down her hair. Her hair was a kind of ladder, pinned and smoothed, you would never find it. We look upon the ocean so easily from this distance. She lifted her sleeve, she climbed the ladder of her hair every morning. The particular light against her skin. A different ocean moved through her—her blood in my blood with his blood.

Copyright © 2023 by Shelley Wong. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 21, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.