Poem

Maxine Beneba Clarke
Bridge

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

bowed-headed

            to parade

 

and god forbid

god forbid you’re accidentally

                                    overpaid

                                                      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

                              away

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