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Hong Kong, 2003

By Mary Jean Chan

At thirteen, school meant mandatory

medical kits: two face masks, a small

bottle of hand sanitizer. We sang

hymns praising the Lord through

our masks, standing far apart

from one another, empty seats

filling the hall. My father left

for work in an N95, returned

home late with its firm outline

on his pale cheeks. Each day

I waited for him to come back,

felt his forehead, listened for

a cough, washed my hands till

they became gnarled like bark.

MARY JEAN CHAN is a poet, editor and lecturer currently based in Oxford. They are the author of Flèche (Faber, 2019) and co-editor of 100 Queer Poems (Vintage, 2022).

Art by Eloise Cooke


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