behind door number five,

a better life takes shape.


Most entries will lead to a sparse, drab room
where transplanted officials and local translators
wait to turn asylees back to the streets. Only one
will open to reveal skyscrapers, the sprawling park
from the pictures, kites over a shoreline. I study
each lock and handle. Which combination of
pleas and overheard phrases could move them?

Oh dear Lord

looters shot the dog
right on the threshold


everything that could burn is gone
only the graves remain

please please

returnees are stealing and selling
roof shingles

please please please

we can’t earn bread in this country
this was never our country

please please please please

it will take years to reapply
all over again

please please please please please

let the children go back
to childhood


We are called from


Maša Torbica teaches at the University of Waterloo, located on the Haldimand Tract.

Questions and Answers

What poetic techniques did you use in this poem? How did you write, edit, and refine it?

“Tautologies” uses a circular poetic form to explore the liminal space of a stateless family applying for foreign asylum. The poem reflects my lived experience of attending immigration interviews as a child, after my family was displaced by the civil war in the former Yugoslavia. The circular form is crucial in several ways. Due to the traumatic intersections between forced displacement and uncertain (im)migration prospects, I lived within some version of a liminal state long after my physical circumstances altered. The circular form also aims to foreground the broader sociopolitical stakes of those pivotal moments. Over the last decade, my understanding of my personal history, including my family’s arrival in Canada, has been deeply informed by the work of scholars and writers like Laura Madokoro, Lee Maracle, and Anne McNevin. By freezing the moment of potential rather than impending (im)migration, “Tautologies” calls attention to the sociopolitical forces shaping such decisions/trajectories, and seeks to disrupt (neo)colonial narratives around the inevitability of ongoing European arrival and settlement on Indigenous territories.

In terms of writing process, I began working on this poem in 2015 and reached the current version in 2019. It took a while to refine the connection between my visceral recollections and the wider sociopolitical context. I am particularly thankful to Dr. D. A. Hadfield for invaluable early encouragement and many delightful conversations about doors and thresholds.

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