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 lines 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 then 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, staying 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?
Where I know where I am; where I have been?

Copyright: from Red, Cherry Red (Bloomsbury, 2007), © Jackie Kay 2007, used by permission of the author and the publisher

More about this poem

Jackie was born in Scotland to a Scottish mother and a Nigerian father. Soon after she was born, she was adopted by a white parents and ...

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About My Face is a Map

I was hooked up with the scientist Ian Hutchison from Saving Faces by the Royal Society of Medicine who asked me to pick an area of medicine which interested me, so I picked the area of so-called facial deformity, or facial disfigurement, because I found that fascinating. And then he sent me all these articles about it and I began to read more and more articles about children and I found that I just couldn’t write the poem, I had too information in a strange way, I read so much and I learnt so much but I had too much information, and then one day I just woke up with this image of this girl who was born with a map of Australia on her face, and once I had that image I had the poem.

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