Poem introduction

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.

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?


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

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Jackie Kay – Children's Poems Download

1Double Trouble

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2Dracula

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3English Cousin Comes to Scotland

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4Fiere

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5Grandpa's Soup

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6Love Sick

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7Lucozade

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8Mrs Dungeon Brae

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9My face is a Map

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10My Grandmother's Pink River

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11No 115 Dreams

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12Pride

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13Red Running Shoes

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14Sassenachs

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15The Angler's Song

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16The Moon at Knowle Hill

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17The Nine Lives of the Cat Mandu

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18The World of Trees

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19Valentine

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2021st Birthday Poem for Matthew

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21At Home, Abroad

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22Attention Seeking

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23Black Ann

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24Brendon Gallacher

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25Burying My African Father

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26Darling

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Books by Jackie Kay - Children's Poems