Julie Mehretu, “Migration Direction Map” (1996), ink on mylar, installation view at the Los Angeles County Musuem of Art (LACMA) (photo by Elisa Wouk Almino/Hyperallergic)


Like me, my petitioner has never left
the United States. He says he has no need,
he is happy and has no needs.
My petitioner is interested in sex.
His distinguishing feature is a hibiscus tattoo.
My petitioner’s mother dislikes me.
Her son would never marry someone like me.
He doesn’t argue with her, he is not an arguer, he says.
My petitioner is not often home.
My petitioner and I met in a utopian studies class.
My petitioner and I met in Anglo-Saxon poetry.
My petitioner and I stopped having sex after six months.
My petitioner and I have sex twice a week.
The agent at Homeland Security asks why
I wanted my petitioner to be my petitioner.
The truth is my father saved three thousand dollars,
the market rate for men
who petition for illegal women.


So studious, so good,
my beneficiary accomplishes all she sets out to.
Forms, bills, lawyers.
My beneficiary loves to play.
Her big toe pinning my cock
just so, just as I’ve described, now make that face
I say and she does. On my back,
blood in my mouth, her hands around
my neck, how hard she concentrates!
So give her
what she wants, ma’am,
and then she’ll wipe me down.


Esther Lin was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and lived in the United States as an undocumented immigrant for 21 years. She is a 2020 Writing Fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, the author of The Ghost Wife, which won the 2017 PSA Chapbook Fellowship, and winner of the Crab Orchard Review’s 2018 Richard Peterson Prize. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Indiana Review, The Missouri Review Online, Pleiades, Ploughshares, Triquarterly, and elsewhere. A 2017–19 Wallace Stegner Fellow, she currently organizes for the Undocupoets, which promotes the work of undocumented poets and raises consciousness about the structural barriers they face in the literary community.

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