Toil: A Poem by Caitlin McGregor

*trigger warning: sexual and physical abuse; violence against women, violence against children*




like stones being swallowed

into a little girl’s stomach,

a baby drops from its mother’s birth canal

face first into a pit of barbed wire


I was raped on Nauru


through a tiny crack

leak trickles of blood

and dirt too hot to touch

the crack is quickly filled with putty


I have been very sick


sorry little girl

there is no room on the fridge

for such a sad drawing

but 8739, what an exotic name


I have never said that I did not want a termination


there are white men’s hands

in a woman’s body

there is blood on their shirtsleeves

but they won’t remove their hands


I never saw a doctor


skin and bones plead and burn

babies are lined up on the floor

guards spread the legs of women and children

maybe no one knows we’re here


I saw a nurse at a clinic but there was no counselling


“you have been told a lie

they have taken advantage of you

you have been ripped apart

and I understand you will feel very angry about that…”


I saw a nurse at villawood but there was no interpreter


“…tell anyone who seeks to follow you

that they should not do it

or they’ll end up in a similar circumstance

or much, much worse”


I asked but was not allowed to talk to my lawyer


look tony, look scott

here come pete and poor old mal

here boys, take these before we run away

the keys to the gulag


Please help me


like to dislike

share to spread the word

hold your children a little tighter

before you tuck them in tonight


Maybe no one knows we’re here




*Some lines in this poem are paraphases of Scott Morrison’s recorded speech to asylum seekers in 2014; some are adaptations of lyrics from Nick Cave’s ‘O Children’; and some are direct quotes from a letter written by an asylum seeker referred to as ‘Abyan’ by the media when her case made news in late 2015*


This poem was originally published in Farrago, Issue 3, 2016.