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The Queen’s Room

San Francisco, 1849

Note the tasteful draperies over the windows,

the view of the canneries. Salt air-gagged, we

arrived west. Sunburnt necks. Teenagers, most of us.
Like tanagers. Over the sea, we were red-winged,
ready. The men who made us come here feinted 

betrothal. Had us on our backs and talked of gold.
Now so many pretty girls lewd and unaccompanied.

Debarking the ship, we were led to the barracoons. 

The bidders waited. Why call it a Queen’s room? 

A hundred and fifty jewels clothed in lice and rags 

up for the highest bidder. Our mouths, cash cows

for our “husbands.” Forced to sign contracts
we could not read         did not know the words

did not know    merchant or earthquake or gold
did not know    debt or price or concept of worth