I'm Standing in Line

I'm standing in line
for unemployment compensation
a long line that ropes around the room
waiting my turn
and hating it
because the clerk
who stands at the window hour after hour
or works at a desk squeezed between desks
in a mustard-colored room
with low ceilings and fluorescent lights
and no windows
the clerk makes it feel like a handout.

I go home and do laundry
and pick tomatoes for a salad
and when the children come home from school
late as usual and with long explanations
I sit and listen
and have a cup of tea while they have milk
and we talk about what they did today
and watch the cardinal
the one with the short flat crest
eat the stale bread in the driveway.

And next day I clean the fridge
and mop the kitchen floor
and when I get tired then or later
or fed up with housework
I sit by the window with a cup of tea
and watch the trees beginning to change
and the light with them
and tell myself that what you do
is not as important as how you live.
I could be that clerk
working in a mustard-colored box
making people feel like dirt.

:: Rina Ferrarelli, in If I Had a Hammer: Women's Work in Poetry, Fiction, and Photographs

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