The Waiting Room Lament (a poem)

There’s a young mother sitting in WINZ
with a baby resting atop the curvature of her hip –
her great maternal hip – the anatomical totem of life in
a hall of dying stars.
“Where is the father?” they will ask:
the stiff voice of a starched shirt.
Her baby’s or her own? — they are of the same ilk, and
she is destined,
it seems,
to be defined by these tortured men
born of the same rage in a bottle;
tyrants of their small houses on their broken blocks.

When she was younger she wanted to be a dancer
Like one of those Russians with the pretty dresses 
Dreams come and they go and they empty onto the pavement like ashes. 

There’s a man with years behind him, a jumble of exhausted bones,
spluttering, heaving his insides,
fiddling with the valve of a dried-up water cooler.
He’s waiting for his name which is really a number
which is really a sequence of taps
on the cool surface of a keyboard.

Here, they are diffident kids awaiting a schoolmaster; anchored
by the lethargy of life — the compression of dotted ceilings,
the always-whirring phones,
skeptical jowls and imperious growls,
aloof inquisitions within partitions.
It never gets easier, never stops squeezing
the people’s dignity — this is a bloodless place.
The blows are blunt force. Black and purple is
the price they pay
for being the Deserving Poor.

When they were younger they saw the flash of a supernova,
but now, all is left, is the flicker of a tealight,
dimming, choking
in the cold vast space.

A note from the author: Of course, not all case workers on the front lines are the same. Some treat their clients (see: fellow humans) with the utmost respect and battle tirelessly to provide them with all the support they need. Others, however, ensure these visits to WINZ are an exercise in humiliation. The following Facebook page has been set up to share horror stories from real people in the (admittedly faint) hope that it will contribute to a change in the organisation’s problematic ethos. If you have a moment, please check them out:

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