Essays    Reportage    Marginalia    Interviews    Poetry    Fiction    Videos    Everything   

Treasure, treasury, / treachery.

Poetry | Poetry Tuesday, poetry
August 8, 2023

– Anna May Wong is the first Asian American woman to appear on the US quarter dollar, 2022

O, to be the face of money! 2022: newly
minted, you are a new woman. The face
of capital. The face of lucre. Preface:

your nails tapping against IN GOD
WE TRUST. But he is heads, you are tails.
Toss a coin the for chance of it being you

or George Washington. It’s always George.
George and his bloodhounds. George, father
of a republic, patriarch of this nation you died

in. In life, so many people thought it was okay
to discard you. And they did—that director,
his lewd smile, how he put his hand behind

your ear. You were sixteen, seventeen. That was
how you were assessed: a girl doll, forever 
foreign, stupid flower, spoiled with one touch.

How we’ve grown used to being used once, expend-
able. You, me, pretty commodities: fungible,
fungal, funny, fun. Fun! But for whom? No glory

to girlhood or Hollywood. No glory to money
or matrimony. Nation or state. Treasure, treasury,
treachery. Tell us, fathers, have we come very far?

Your father was a laundry man. Every day of his life,
he encountered stains. A century later, I drag
my linens to the laundromat, trade dollars for coins

with your face on them. Each new quarter dreams
another cycle inside this machine of cleanness.
But none of my dresses are in mint condition.

Some stains I cherished, some stains I wanted
gone. For this coin, I watch my stains tumble,
obedient to the laws of disappearance.

Copyright © 2023 by Sally Wen Mao. Reprinted from The Kingdom of Surfaces with the permission of the author and Graywolf Press.