knows the bar-propping stranger's
hand on my knee, only
an arm's length from hunger

knows fifty-five brown rice
recipes, winning ways
with plain potatoes

knows how to scam that extra
tenner, how to fight for its rights
with rich doctors

knows the food store at st vinnies,
knows the well-meaning grin of home visitors
who promise prayers and novenas

smiles and says thanks
for their icons
their ridiculous pictures of jesus
knows to not appear bitter
to not be a feisty fighter
to be grateful for handouts of warm winter clothes,
to be quiet, to be nice, to be nicer

knows there are no guarantees
that life sometimes throws you a curveball
and as hard as you stretch it sings past
and you fall

knows the cold of winter when the power
cuts out, choice of eating
or paying the bill

knows the paint-peeling dwelling
the room with no view
the carving knife under the mattress

knows generosity is not the province of the wealthy
but comes from strange quarters – drug dealers,
hookers, and toothless young men with stealthy grins
who shout you bread money, or coffee

knows about invisibility, how to be a nameless statistic
knows there's no social status, no respect when you're sick
– you're a vagrant, a loser, no-hoper

if pride is a sin
call me sinner
- this, or open my legs
to the monster

Liz Hall-Downs