In Singapore I was Serbian
— for Marcel
Clearly my face changes when I leave this country.
In Singapore my hair is matted to my head. A white man
asks if I am Serbian. I am out in the open, unaware
of air-conditioned tunnels below the city, chugging
water at every crosswalk, I see a brown woman like me
and say hi, wanting the familiar. Later with canapes
she says I have the sharp face of an invader. By the time
I get to my hotel, I have bought an ancestry test. I call
my mother who prays and my father who says it’s okay
we’re from somewhere else first and then somewhere else
again and again. On the flight home I am glad
we are all the same. Economy class forks and knives
wrapped in plastic pockets of air. I still wonder how
I could have passed for Serbian. And how I have also
passed for French three times in my life. I remember
my disbelief that day after the rave, when a man
asked to come over—earlier, someone had thought
we were brother and sister. In my bed he tells me
he is French. No, I say. He slips a passport into my palm.
Place of Birth: Toulouse, France. He looks at me the same way
I look at myself in the mirror, waiting for something to happen.
Shazia Hafiz Ramji’s writing has been shortlisted for the 2020 Bridport Prize for International Creative Writing and nominated for the 2020 Pushcart Prizes. It has appeared in Event, Best Canadian Poetry 2019, Maisonneuve, Gutter: the magazine of new Scottish and international writing, and is forthcoming in ARC Poetry Magazine. She is the author of Port of Being, a finalist for the 2019 Vancouver Book Award, BC Book Prizes, Gerald Lampert Memorial Award, and winner of the Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry. Shazia’s fiction has recently appeared in the short film, Colour Study, available on CBC Gem. She is at work on a novel.
This poem was originally published in Vallum issue 18:1 Invisibility.
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