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What Lies Beneath (BSL, with captions)

Magma 69, The Deaf Issue

Poem in BSL and English by Alison Smith
Performed by Alison Smith
A film by Sandra Alland and Ania Urbanowska

British Sign Language interpreting and translation consultation by Lisa Li

Captioned. Transcript below. A version with sound is available here


What Lies Beneath

Alison Smith



Giant padding,

protective gauze on stomach

Repair, not wound,

damage from birth


Protect myself

from myself


If I were I


Hate I that lies beneath

gremlin voice screams


Sealed over

I’m not allowed to be disappointed

by such imperfection

to want neatness, invisible instant result


Surgeon shows me ‘before’ shot

‘Looks better,’

I say out loud

Imperfect improvement


The nurse refers me to psychotherapist

because I cry in despair



I sip tea back to café world

blocking the booming sound tearing the air



secret desire to cut it out my way


If I were I


Is it worth it?

Self oppression?


I distance away,

stomp petulant rage against

who? Me? Them?



Where’s kindness? Compassion?

I challenge the unspoken memories

full ownership of my body


No answers follow

gentle breath,



The psychotherapist’s talking:

‘Where’s your emotional support?

I imagine you feel let down.’


In monotone

I describe the nurse opening the screen to the ward at visiting hours,

my pyjama bottoms at my knees after she injects me

Inside I’m screaming


Salmon and a packet of peas brought in from M&S the night before

(the nurse offered me impossible steak and beef),

now dumped on my hospital bed at 7:30am:

‘Patients’ food not allowed in the fridge.’

I think, ‘She’s forgotten my goat’s milk’

soft food diet because I couldn’t swallow

in the first place


I control my raging sign language

You don’t tell nurses to fuck off


A voice says: ‘You wanted mothering, I can’t give you that…’

All I want is to be told it will be all right


I go home after psychotherapist’s interrogation

make banana and blueberry smoothie


too numb to make sense

I lie down

my own arms enclose me


If I were I


I’d scream till they cover their ears

make it real for them

vicious as cold scalpel cuts

icy stares

indifferent fixes



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