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Conversation

by Tina Cole

 

I have come to ask about benefits

 

I am not fluent in benefits, but I know

a bit about foreign, I can say estrangerio in Portuguese.

 

I have escaped lands sick with war and tyrants

yet my life here is still one-part sugar to ten parts vinegar.

 

Cooking is not my strength either – you should try another

department, as an illegal you have no recourse to public benefits.

 

My people were like small rivers rushing into a hundred

seas, so many washed up black-sheeted on foreign shores,

their tide is sloshing and rising.

 

You are talking in riddles, the vocabulary you carried here is as gaudy

and deceptive as those Matryoshka you people sell at markets.

 

Why am I always on the way to somewhere else? The same streets

grow old with me, the same neighbours turn away, close their curtains

against falling stars, step over gutters that run a filthy red brown

sluice, no words of comfort pass the borders of your teeth.

 

You are not in the right place, you should have phoned ahead to book

a longer appointment, next time we will need a translator.

 

My body is mapped in old ways of being where Summer’s song

is an aria of fire and blood, of ancient survivors

with a frayed past, you cannot unpick us, we are seamed together

in your high voltage cities where cardboard ziggurats grow

in the freezing yawn of doorways.

 

Yes, well, thank you, your time is up for today, maybe make

another appointment for next week?