Lit Issue | Poetry

Are There No Workhouses?

A Poem by Diane O'Neill

Chicago 1972

Frosty glares burn my back

Dominick’s checkout line

Grocery cart proclaimed guilty:

Food stamps don’t cover

My grandmother’s herring

                        Let them eat bread and water

                        Whole wheat only

                        Never cinnamon raisin

                        Tuna, not herring

                        Better be generic

                                    How dare she

                       I work hard so hard so hard

                                    Not fair!

 

The jar, fish in white sauce

Imported from somewhere

Gran’s Donegal girlhood

Laughter with other maids

The remembering worth empty end-of-month refrigerator

Remembering

Before she crossed the ocean, came here

Then her husband drowned

Working Belmont Harbor docks

Height of Great Depression, four toddlers,

Scrubbing floors, cursing fate

Now old

Social Security pittance

And food stamps

That don’t cover luxuries

Like herring

Or essentials

Like toilet paper

 

Chicago 1972

I pull out dollars

Not stapled booklet of stamps

Contemplate quitting high school

Working McDonald’s, anywhere

Escape, run grocery gauntlet

Dodge darts of scalding scorn

Diane O’Neill is a lifelong Chicagoan whose career has focused on creative writing and disability rights; she holds degrees from National University and Columbia College and has had essays and poems published, including some in the South Side Weekly.

Thoughts on “Are There No Workhouses?”

  1. Nicely done. I was standing in line, behind. I knew the Irish sounds. I knew the feelings of end-of-the-month. I’m Irish. From Donegal, they say. Or Mayo. Or maybe Galway. Who knows where the records are? They are always burned up in the ever-burning church fires. I thank you for the Gran’s memories. [“I’m from Vis.”]

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