Originally published in The Immigration Handbook (Seren 2016). The Immigration Handbook was shortlisted for the 2016 Ted Hughes Award For New Work in Poetry.

From the judges: "An important and unsentimental collection which humanises and individualises refugees without inappropriate occupation of another voice. Caroline Smith uses a range of forms and close attention to detail which forces the reader to engage."

Asylum Interview

by Caroline Smith

She has practised the safe phrases –
‘I passed through unknown countries.’
‘Agent took my passport.’
Even in her broken English
she says only what will help her case.
But the sides of the path are mined
and he is waiting for her to slip.

Her skin sweats.
Catarrh is blocked solid in her nose.
She shunts and pulls to try to move it.
One nostril clears momentarily
a messy clank of iron and locks
rattling and unfastening.
‘Why have you claimed asylum?’
She sneezes and apologises.
‘I have a cold.’
He writes this down.

She is trying to protect herself
but she has no energy.
He fires questions at her in bursts.
His pen scores the paper
drawing back her cover
like a soft flap of mango skin
exposing her shame,
beating yolk orange like a fontanel.
He has realised the truth
but doesn’t correct his notes –
raped by soldiers of the Lord’s Resistance Army:
her immune system has been shot through,
her CD4 count a mere six cells.

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