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I STAND: USELESS STRANGER

Updated: Dec 31, 2022

A small girl kneels outside the pharmacy

and vomits quietly from a stomach, already empty,

into the snow that sticks to Canterbury Street.


Her mum, knees of her jeans wet,

holds the girl’s hair back,

pulling out tissues from anorak pockets

and whispering words to keep the girl safe

and to keep the girl warm.


I offer my help, my hand, my scarf.

Her mum shakes her head.

She doesn’t need my stuff but she takes the hug

like a gust of love from the cut of the cold

and we both lean in.


She’s scared, she says, of another long night

afraid and alone with her shadow-eyed child

and only the promise

of waiting lists and waiting lines,

of online forms and GP calls

and A&E as a last resort.


I nod to the mum and the girl

and wish them good luck and mutter goodbye.

Thank you, her mum says with a sigh.

Luck is all you have if you’re cold and sick and only a kid.


And a car speeds past through the winter wet slush;

two boys in Santa hats laugh at the splash

but I catch her last line

as it hangs in the air,

defying its weight.


I've learnt that we're living

in dangerous times.



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