(Yarls Wood Immigration Removal and Detention Centre, Bedford, UK)
This woman sitting across from me
is telling me I’ve put on weight again,
I ask her about how her week has been,
Ahh...you know she says. And I say, oh,
because I don’t know at all.
A guard tips fish food into a tank
With koi fish too large to be in there
As an Indian family watches.
She asks me if I want some coffee
from the vending machine. I nod.
When she smiles,
she’s got the same wrinkles,
the same hair, as my mother.
My mother told me England would be fun.
Once this woman told her son that England
would more fun than Vietnam.
What separates us:
the thickness of these walls
times the width of a sheet of paper
faxed over from a solicitor
who still won’t answer his phone,
and a cheap chipboard coffee table.
A female guard watches us to make sure
Our feet are off the table, to make sure
We don’t kiss. Luck is one part starched
blue cloth, two parts the right amount of ink.
She is knitting a hat for me, she says.
I say thank you, ask her if there is anything
else she needs. In an hour I will run back out.
I will buy good coffee at the train station.
and I pretend like I understand any of this.
I’m Sorry We Lie to You
The crinkling of plastic is enough to makes your pupils dilate.
I do, however, still insist you’re the kind of dog who is more
turned on by rumours of monkeys than the idea of dessert,
that you’d be happier in a forest than sitting in a fancy café.
But you can never resist the sound of things being opened,
which means your ears twitch to attention and you touch
your wet velvet nose to my calf as I open a Ziplock bag
of your medication. I’m sorry we have to lie to you but
what you don’t know will never hurt you--- I’ll make sure
of this, if you promise to listen. I wrap the pill in wholemeal
bread, throw it to the back of your throat, hold your jaws
together in my fist. You spit it out anyway, a slimy blue circle
melting into saliva. So I open the freezer, dig out Hagen Dazs
because the only smell you like more than dead snail is vanilla
because even Mary Poppins broke down at some point, choosing
to ruin kids’ teeth over explaining the virtues of modern medicine.
Stephanie Chan has won national poetry slams in Singapore (2010) and the UK (2012) and has been invited to perform her work around Europe and Southeast Asia. She wrote and performed in a one-woman spoken word show about activism and identity called Foreigner Go Home (With Me!) at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2012 and 2013. Her writing is published Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, Body Boundaries: The EtiquetteSG Anthologies Volume 1, Asia Literary Review and Griffith Review.