The cost of living
The checkout girls observe
opportunity costs of poverty.
Arthritis swells away
intimacies of small change.
Stork margarine. Daz. Value scones.
They see her carefully save
a plastic charity token, knuckling it
into a purse with tens and coppers.
Roast beef and Yorkshires microwave meal for one.
She talks – of weather, grandchildren,
the hurrying year – while her capacious bag
swallows its meagre ration. She lingers,
prolonging sight of the day’s only face.
Cat food: one tin. Powdered milk. Custard creams.
A queue ticks beyond her hearing aid.
(Smoked salmon. Organic lemons. Tuscan olives. Wine.)
She sees only cataracts and smudge,
every day. Every other, if she ekes out the marge,
trading conversation for a slice of toast.
Tinned pears. A potato. Leaf tea.
Third jersey. Gloves. Turn off the fire.
Hot water bottle. Woolly hat. Bed socks.
Fig rolls. Crab paste. Small sliced white.
They remark on her lack, unable to say
when they last saw her nameless familiarity.
They didn’t know her, how far she walked.
Just all she ate for a year
and precisely how much it cost.
This poem was shortlisted in the 2013 Live Canon International Poetry Competition, and published in their anthology.