Of this town once built from redwoods trekked

from the cold Sierras, nothing’s left. Just bits

of aqueduct lost by the roundhouse, an outline

ridge of knuckled barrows, glass chips violet

from a century of sun. Fists of clinker,

and on the berm’s west side, the ghostly hollows

of Chinese dugouts whose perimeter I trace

according to the wreckage. Shattered

whiskey bottles. Bone dishes ground

into a culvert where I find, thin as a baby’s

fingernail, this metal trouser button: its edges

crimped, eyes scrubbed clean of earth so that,

when I peer through its slits, I catch a whiskered glimpse

of jackrabbit, moving so fast not even time can catch him.

“West: A Translation” is a collection of poems that explore the transcontinental railroad’s cultural impact on America through the lens of workers’ histories. These poems translate and respond to a Chinese elegy carved into the walls of the Angel Island Immigration Station in San Francisco, where Chinese migrants were detained between 1910 and 1940.

This poem appears in the May 2024 issue of Deseret Magazine. Learn more about how to subscribe.