Mary Jean Chan


What My Diary Might Look Like

The  same  uniform  for  twelve  years. A  white skirt, blue collar, blue belt, blue hem. A  dark,  no-nonsense kind of  blue. White  the  color  of  snowfall in Eden.  You  washed  it  every  single day, made sure you ate in small bites, always  wore  an  extra  pad  so  none of the  blood  could  seep  through. You began  wearing  that  uniform   at   age six,  your  skin  haunted  by  the  British flag,  so  you  could  be  Chinese  with English   characteristics.   Every   time you wore it, you shut your body up. Some girls wore theirs short, discolored, tight. As Head Girl, you reported these girls for inappropriate behavior, kept your own dress at just the right length. Most mornings, you see the  face  of  a  boy  in  the  mirror. You expect to fall in love with him, someday. Meanwhile, your fingers brush the wrist of another girl as you jostle into the assembly hall, and you understand  that  sin  was  never  meant to  be  easy,  only  sweet.  What  might light up the pond you sat beside in dreams,  eyeing  skin  and  so much depth it would be years before you dared?  What  curvature  of  tongue might you taste, as if another’s breath were blessing? One night, you find yourself back  there.  You  dream.  A voice  says:  Hell  is  not  other  people. You  sink,  stripped  of the  glowing dress you  wore  for thousands of days.



On Losing Face So the Body Comes Back

This is what it looks like: picture
a Chinese girl and a dinner table.
The girl will wait until she is told
she can sit at the last seat available,

after the men and the boys, after
the elderly. She does not think it
wrong, this box-step of worries
she has learnt since she was old

enough to kneel whenever she lost
her cool, faltered in her smile. She
knows codes, taps them out on her
tongue: t-h-a-n-k y-o-u. S-o-r-r-y.

When the girl was six, she wanted
to be a boy. A storm of dresses fell
from her mother’s lips. The sky was
the color of whitened knuckles. The

girl became a dress, found herself
marooned at the edge of her bed –
mannequin beauty ready to drown.
In a dream, the dinner table is an ark

she has finally abandoned. The girl
dreams that the words sprouting like
weeds from her mouth are not weeds,
but magnolias – her mother’s favorite.



Mary Jean Chan won the 2016 Oxford Brookes International Poetry Competition (ESL), placed Third in the 2016 Bare Fiction Prize for Poetry, and has been shortlisted for the 2016 London Magazine Poetry Prize, the 2016 Rialto Open Pamphlet Competition, and the 2016 Resurgence Eco-Poetry Prize. Her work has been published in The Poetry Review, Bare Fiction Magazine, The London Magazine, Ambit, Callaloo Journal and The Rialto. As a Co-Editor of Oxford Poetry, Mary Jean is pursuing her PhD in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway, University of London. Her article ‘Towards a Poetics of Racial Trauma: Lyric Hybridity in Claudia Rankine’s Citizen’ is forthcoming in 2017 from The Journal of American Studies.

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