Geoffrey Brock


The Origin of Chinese Laundry in America: 1851

Laundresses being scarce in the gold camps,
the richest forty-niners shipped soiled clumps

of clothes as far as—this is true—Hong Kong.
They came back clean and pressed, and before long

men rode the laundry’s scented slipstream east,
their old world melting into Chinese mist

as they chased news they couldn’t not believe
across the Pacific, toward the leaking hive

of California—Guangdong credit sharks
behind them; foreigner taxes, burnt-out shacks,

and their black queues hacked off ahead. One man,
Wah Lee, forced from the fields he’d come to mine,

opened a laundry at Washington and Grant
and made himself a San Francisco mint.

© 2008 Electronic Poetry Review