Jackie Kay was born and brought up in Scotland. Jackie writes for adults as well as children; her children’s titles include Strawgirl (Macmillan) and Red Cherry Red (Bloomsbury), available here, which won the CLiPPA (CLPE Poetry Award). Alongside books, Jackie has written extensively for stage and television; her play BRINK was performed at the Royal Exchange theatre in Manchester. She is also Chancellor of the University of Salford and Professor of Creative Writing at Newcastle University. She made a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2002 and was awarded an MBE in 2006. More recently, in March 2016, Jackie Kay was named Scots Makar—the National Poet for Scotland. You can read more about Jackie here.
This is her moving poem:
My Face is a Map
I was born with a map of Australia on my face;
it was beautiful, my mother told me –
there was nobody like me in the whole wide world
who could trace the edges of down under
on the raised and grafted song line of her face.
I was connected to the upside-down people,
to those who loved the bush and the kangaroo.
I could never smile or frown or weep
in case my special map fell off my face.
My face was pulled tight, so that nobody got lost.
I held my head steady and I held my head high.
When people gaped and gawped and gawked
I thought they were trying to find Alice Springs,
to work out where they wanted to go, where they’d been.
And when somebody stared for a very long time
I would simply ask if they’d been down under:
the hardest human heart melts when it sees a koala bear.
My words were slower than other children’s
because my map was stitched to my mouth:
every time I managed a whole sentence
I imagined a small boat floating out of Sydney harbour.
Yesterday there was talk of peeling my map off,
changing my face, so that it looks like others;
my mother said I should have a long think,
and that maybe life would be easier…
I am thinking now, staring hard into the mirror.
I trace the hard edges of the world in my face.
I know the hard stares of some people.
Without my map, will I be the same person?
Will I know where I am, where I have been?
© Jackie Kay (From Red Cherry Red, Bloomsbury, winner of the 2008 CLiPPA award)
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