Shirley Geok-lin Lim is an Asian American/Malaysian-Singapore writer of poetry,
fiction, creative non-fiction, and criticism. Her first collection of poems, Crossing
The Peninsula
, published in 1980, won the Commonwealth Poetry Prize, a first both
for an Asian and a woman. She's published seven poetry collections; three books of
short stories; two novels (Joss and Gold and Sister Swing); a children's novel, Princess
, translated into Chinese; and The Shirley Lim Collection. Her memoir, Among the
White Moon Faces
, received the American Book Award.


One breathes, preparing
to wince. Living
has taught us this
if nothing else—
the mystery of pain.
Health we take as plain
daylight, till the long noon
tips us over on our knees.
Nothing prepares
for pain, that goon
in our skull we must
endure and learn to love
as revelation.

Riding Into California

If you come to a land with no ancestors
to bless you, you have to be your own
ancestor. The veterans in the mobile home
park don't want to be there. It isn't easy.
Oil rigs litter the land like giant frozen birds.
Ghosts welcome us to a new life, and
an immigrant without home ghosts
cannot believe the land is real. So you're
grateful for familiarity, and Bruce Lee
becomes your hero. Coming into Fullerton,
everyone waiting at the station is white.
The good thing about being Chinese on Amtrak
is no one sits next to you. The bad thing is
you sit alone all the way to Irvine.

The Glass of Wine

A definite article finds
the difference between a passing
ordinary singular
and the emphatic—blushing
blood-red blood-shot-eyed evening
guide to take you to slumber,
moonless, in rooms you will not mind
that are old or that are new,
assigned to unremembering,
till squabbling bird calls wake you.

Mother to Son

You must believe me
when I tell you
there is a deep
secret you must learn,
a secret that can
never be shared.
Go now and learn it.

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