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My Mother’s Hands

Updated: Mar 12, 2023

Dear Asian Youth,

My mother’s hands are heavy

Like fabric soaked in tepid water

Prayers lace the gaps of thin worn fingers

Strength etches into fragile feminine hands

She told me once

Of a searing hot morning

Sweaty tanned bodies pressed flush together

They paddled in the sweltering heat

Water creeped up a wooden boat

The lukewarm liquid soaking her toes

Relief then panic seeped into slender ankles

Small childlike hands clasped together

Calloused pads gripped the edges of bony knuckles

Perhaps fearful her prayers would slip through

Her fingers like salty water through timber

Quiet desperation infused her words

Cries of help drifted in the afterglow of the rising sun

Like a broken piece of wood on the ocean’s edge

Struggling to keep afloat

It travels further from my fingers

Feet stuck in the sandy grains of an island

I am left to watch.

But now she is here by my side

Prayers buried in the soft flesh of her palm

Grown cold in the stillness of the water

Instead my whispers of “Thank you” warm in her hands

- Feileen Li


This piece involves a story my mother once revealed to me about her past prior to her arrival in America. My mother was one of what are known as the “boat people.” She was a refugee who fled the Vietnam War by boat. During her escape to America, there was a time when the boat she was on began sinking. She was ultimately rescued, but this story is something that I will never forget.

I would like to place emphasis on the last two stanzas of my poem. I will never be able to completely understand the struggles that my mother went through, and it will never be my place to claim these struggles as my own. I hope that people understand that my mother’s (and any immigrants') experiences should never be generalized and that this poem is not a representation of what she endured. This poem is simply about my appreciation for my mother’s inner strength and her existence in my life today.

Cover photo source:


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