Poem

Maxine Beneba Clarke
Things about dying

in my home state, now, by law

                those leaving us can tread gently:

usher themselves towards the light

in the dignity they see fit

 

and i can’t remember all of their names

they and i were strangers

                but when i heard,

i thought of them

 

like the kind-eyed man

in bed ninety-two

 

slight form wasting beneath thin hospital sheets

every morning smiling-hopeful

                saying lass, today might be the day

week after week, drawing back from the pain

turning away

                as i quietly brought the breakfast tray in

 

 

my friends and i

we were all gonna be somebody

                                                                        back then

 

every one of us had a hustle, to an end

 

me, i worked the hospital kitchen

to fund the degree

 

eight hours a day on your feet hot

plate burns clocked meal breaks industrial

dishwashers that could take hands off (and once

did) two-hundred-kilo trolleys to push six days on

three days off november to march from age

eighteen to twenty-three

 

it got me here

 

but i know things about dying

that would haunt your dreams

 

 

we were always the first to know

                down in the plating room

 

we knew before the doctors did

 

when the little freckled girl

                with the bald head and crooked smile

left jelly off her order sheet

 

the leading hand that afternoon

was on salt, pepper and cutlery:

she yelled down the line, in a shaky voice

                                           no dessert for bed fourteen

 

nobody spoke for the rest of meal prep

 

 

and after the trolleys were loaded

                she gave everyone a break

 

 

we went outside

                                    and passed around

                                    cigarettes

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jun 22, 2019 as "Things about dying". Subscribe here.

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.