Back to back, our chair wheels locking in a way
that makes us secretly hate our neighbour.
We swivel and watch the clock as if
we were whippets waiting for the bell.
The belts feed us lines of everyone’s potatoes,
sanitary towels, scented candles, meat.
Every time I touch the cold of a haunch of pork
I want to clean myself. – I can feel the juices
of its smelly death. Sticky, like I had a juicy peach
with a side of horror. Un-lickable. I feel
the parasites of salmonella crawl my arms;
smile, remember to sell the saving stamps
that suck in the poor. Catch their Christmas
even though it’s only May.
People complain about carrier bags – that they split
around boxes of bran flakes, let out the apples. Vodka
is always on offer – ditto the whisky and gin.
Keep them pissed – locked in their worlds
of local argument. We hate it here – every one of us
missing our children’s milestones, swapping our joy
for minimum wage. We buy back our bit
of motherly love in ounces of fizz-bombs. We hope
our sons and daughters think of us as they suck on sugar –
hope their mouths make a memory of us in the chewing.
We buy our guilt in grams and sigh at next week’s rota –
tell each other little stories of our lives, smooth
the bunches in our uniforms.
Whenever we have the chance,
we wash our hands.
Jane Burn is based in the North East of England. Her poems have appeared in magazines such as Butcher’s Dog and Ink, Sweat & Tears, and she has been long-listed for the Canterbury Poet of the Year Award, the National Poetry Competition and commended in the Yorkmix 2014. Her work is featured in anthologies from Emma Press and Kind of a Hurricane Press.