Yarl’s Wood

My poem “Yarl’s Wood” has just been published on the excellent poetry site The Stare’s Nest. The site publishes ‘poems for a more hopeful world’ – something we certainly need at the moment.

My poem is a palimpsest translation of Anne Askew’s “The Ballad Which Anne Askew Made and Sang When She Was in Newgate, 1546”.  It draws on the form and content of the original, and combines this with research about the women and children detained in Yarl’s Wood – a detention centre run by the private company Serco.

Yarl’s Wood

Detained without trial,
no hum of faith but
she is my shield –
sister with the voice of bronze
that rings as we squint
through the two-inch gap
in mirrored glass.
No human is illegal.
We remain belly strong
and our force will prevail,
even as you call
for our removal.
I feel her great-grandma’s
fingers locked between mine
waking the women in my bones:
we are bolder than we were.
It is not enough to ask
and wait to receive
or expect open doors –
we have nothing to lose but our chains.
Set her free.
There are many many more of us than you.
And even though we are locked in
and even though they call us by our room numbers
Avocet 123, come to your unit
she is Sapphire to me.
We put our cloths out.
They told us to take it off.
Our toilet tissue streams through the gap
and we hear them.
No borders! No nations! Stop deportation!
Take down this wall.
Bang. Bang. Bang.
We are fighting for you.
Justice is not sitting on her throne.
When they attack, we fight back.
They lifted me like a sack of potatoes.
Dove 321, to your Unit.
A ribbon of blood-orange air
trickles through
the crack in the glass
and I open my mouth and drink.
I will come back and sing
to women like me
when I’m free –
we are here because you are there.
Perhaps they know not what they do
but when they do it to me
they do it to you.
No human is illegal.


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