Maxine Beneba Clarke

before despair hits before the shame

before scanning job sites and uncertainty


it’s shiny writing on the wall

                                    reading centrelink

            named like it’s

the net that catches the

hand that pulls you up

and some kind of

            bridge between


never thought you’d end up here

                                                      nah, not you

with people like this


we are all just one small disaster

                   away from sinking


and sometimes you only realise

when you’re gasping for air

            what happened


that our hearts are no longer

big enough

            to take us there


didn’t have a mental illness

                                    until you did


three small wide-eyed kids

boss said there was no safety harness

just an hour before you slipped


the redundancies

came out of fucking nowhere


mama had a fall

no money for the nursing home and you

couldn’t do that anyway

                                                      nah, not to her

sometimes a handout is a hand up


that’s the thing

and it’s never you


it’s never you

            until it is


and so what and god bless you

if it never hits


’cause rorting pollies with investment houses

and lifetime pensions that we’ll all pay

will flood the airways screaming

            empathy is not the way

they’ll find the haystack-few who work

the system and round them up


            to parade


and god forbid

god forbid you’re accidentally


                                                      nah, not your fault

but at forty dollars

            till the cupboard empties

a robocall is all that stands

between packing lunches

            and an early grave


we are all one


automated debt-collect


Maxine Beneba Clarke is the author of The Hate Race and Foreign Soil. She is a winner of the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Poetry.

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