You told me your story without words

Seeking asylum,

You were new in my country.
Your lawyer brought you to see me.
In his suit, he was flustered.
He spoke to you in your language and motioned to me.
There, he seemed to say, she is a woman.
You can talk to her.
I made tea.

The three of us sat in donated chairs at a child size table.
He did the talking.
He told me the story of your day in court.
How you cried and could not answer the questions:
“What happened when you were interrogated for the second time?”
You could not say.
Listening on your little chair, you looked down at your hands.
You curled into yourself and disappeared.
Your lawyer continued:
The judge was angry and insisted on psychological support or a psychological report.
Your case was rescheduled. Asylum delayed. Your children marooned without their mother.
I said that I was a mother. You uncurled and looked up at me.
I smiled at you.

Your lawyer needed to leave, but you stayed.
You showed me photographs of your children. I brought you pictures of mine.
I made more tea.
You showed me a picture of your husband who left one night with the Police and never returned.
From your purse, you gave me your crumpled paperwork.
You motioned for me to read it. You would come back tomorrow.
I didn’t know if I should expect you.

You came back. I made tea.
You had decided to tell me your story.
We did not start at the beginning. You didn’t have the verbs.
We sat very close. With your shoulder, you showed me how they broke down your door.
“Police,” you told me in English.
You crossed your wrists behind you and showed how they took you away.
You grabbed your own skirts to show how your children cried and tried to hold you back.
I asked permission to touch you. I wanted to hold you, so I put my hand on your arm.

You ducked down to show me how you had been forced to the floor of the car.
You mimed how they pulled electric cords from the Police station walls to beat you with.
You mimicked their angry, taunting faces.
And you began to show me your body: you brought my fingers to the scars on your legs.
I touched your broken tooth.
When they were done with the beating, they dragged you to your cell.

When they came for you next, it was worse.
You put my hand on your breast so that I could feel the divot their violence left behind.
You showed me three fingers. “Three men?” I guessed.
Yes, three men who tied your wrists with electric cords.
Three men who took the socks from your feet and stuffed them in your mouth.
Three men who secured the gag and blinded you by tying your torn shirt around your face.
Three men who raped you.

We sat huddled and weeping.
You had told me your story, and I had received it.
You trusted me to cherish it, and I do.

That summer you learned to tell the story, though you never had to tell it in court.
It was added to your paperwork, and the psychologist faced the judge in your stead.
You have asylum now.
Your children live with you again and you say you are happy.
You still call me to tell me so.
I still make tea.

Jane McPherson
College of Social Work, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL, USA

This poem was originally published by Taylor & Francis in Journal of Poetry Therapy (November 10, 2014). Available online:


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