The woman on the other side of the curtain
sounds scared as she asks him again
what he will take out. Her English, she says,
is not good, and she clearly doesn’t know
what the word biopsy means.

He keeps repeating it slightly louder,
as if she’s retarded, till I want to scream
tests, it just means tests, because how terrifying
must it be to hear that if there is any abnormality
we will cut something but you don’t know what.

Cancer being a language
I’m still struggling to learn myself.
The lost irony of words like ‘elective’
laughing at my primary school requests for the toilet
and the temperature of lymph nodes misinterpreted
into messages of sympathy for strangers.

The man in the next bay who says he’s lived
on cornflakes for the last eighteen months.
There’s been times he’s wished he was dead,
but he’s still here. The husband sobbing in Spanish
in the chair across from me, his tears needing no translation
as his wife leans forward in her bed to say his name.

The look of shock on that woman’s face
as she clutches her teenage daughter’s arm.
‘Sit closer to me or I’ll start singing’ she jokes.
A strange intimacy, all of us here
in Babel’s waiting room
where the only universal word is love.


2 thoughts on “Foreign

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