“Parents”: A Poem by Fay Chiang



came to America

aged 11 washing people’s socks

slept in class

a paper son with false papers

bought back in the village

because America restricted aliens.

I have a cameo photograph of him.

New York Chinatown. 1939.

out with the boys on Sunday

(america only let the guys in)

hey! That dude was some snappy dresser.

during the war, they let him work

the navy yards

as an apprentice steelwelder

but when the soldiers came home

laundry customers called him,



came in 1950.

classified: refugee from China

from the feudal backwoods of Kwantung

her marriage arranged

to New York rush hours.

speaking no English

she worked in sewing factories

till her back gave out.


raised a family

in the backroom of a laundry,

10’ x 14’, Queens, New York, 1950’s.

there were:

1 folding table

6 folding chairs

1 convertible sofa

2 folding beds

1 baby crib

3 metal cabinets

1 black and white TV.

1 sink

1 refrigerator

1 kitchen range with 2 burners

no heat. no hot water.

to earn money:

a customer brought in a dirty garment

received a ticket

returned in 3 days.

in the meanwhile

the garment was sorted

marked in an inventory

picked up by a commercial laundry


returned the next day



hung to dry

rolled to iron



shelved with the other bundles.

in the ‘50’s, one made

a nickel for each piece.

he: worked 6 days a week, 16 hours a day.

she: raised children, cooked, cleaned, sewed, worked in the laundry when she had time.

he: couldn’t take it. he gambled with the boys.

she: told him to quit, or she would leave.

they: in the end (though it was not this simple) put down a mortgage

on a little house.

the customers called him: Charlie

and her Mrs. Charlie.

he passed away from cancer

50 years old.

the relatives said he was a good man.

she misses her best friend,

continues the laundry

watching the children leave.

she hopes they graduate from college, marry,

have happy lives, grandchildren for her/him.


the clarity of our own vision

what we choose to do with our own lives

will bear fruit to that