I am standing in line
to petition for somewhere to live.
Thirty six of us, socially distanced,
uneasy as we meet each other’s eyes.
There is one house.
With her mascara and curls,
the real estate girl
is more Disney than Dickensian.
But here I approach,
an Oliver Twist,
clutching my application
like an empty bowl
I have no right to fill.
I have three children.
I have a dog, a job,
a washing machine...
Yesterday I was normal.
Packing the lunches
and finding the uniforms,
sculling coffee,
and shouting too loudly
as I hurried us all out the door
in time for our day.
Then the floor fell away.
Our rental is selling.
Now I wake every morning
in a burning building
and it’s money, not water
that will put out this fire
and I don’t have enough.
So I line up
with my single income
and the weight of my family
heavy in my chest.
The real estate girl
smiles at two tradies.
I look at them and think,
‘Two paychecks, no kids,’
I look at the application
and wonder
how hard it would be
to hide our dog.
He’s a Labrador
with bad back legs.
He is the heart of my daughter.
I thought I could carry us.
When the marriage that made them
hit its iceberg and sank,
I collected the flotsam
and built us a boat.
Learned to sail by myself.
I was getting the hang of it.
Keeping one hand on the rudder.
Fishing with my foot for our dinner.
But these waves were made for liners
and my craft is too flimsy.
This water pours into it
faster than I can bail.
You’ll have seen them,
the polar bears
in open ocean,
nudging their cubs
to keep them together,
as they desperately scan
for any land that will hold them.
The rentals have melted.
The lenders won’t loan.
Paying your way
doesn’t earn you a home.
I am lining up
with thirty six people
clutching white knuckled
to the edge of this crack
we are sliding through.
Far over our heads,
the currawongs sail
their clear paths
to their nests by the river.
My eyes ride on their trajectories.
There are tents in the bush down there.
More every week.