Tuesday poem: Papa de los pobres (Potatoes of the poor) by Serie Barford

it’s the morning after Anzac Day
medals and politics have been aired
with bugles, hakas and stylised poppies
marking distant shores, valour and loss

but there’s still battles to be had in the suburbs

where the recession’s struck a hunch-baked woman
in jandals, track pants and a budget-rack floral parka

she’s braked a pushchair chocka with chokos
on the pavement outside Foodtown

when I close in on her I see she’s fine-boned
that her misshapen back is actually a papoose
slung beneath a mantle of synthetic flowers

and there’s bald patches around the hood
where tiny fists have plucked nylon fur
to suck for warmth in the Autumn wind

the woman holds a shard of corrugated card
her smile as shaky as the crayoned lettering
$1 a chocko

her face is gentle
undemanding

but I have chokos galore at home
their wrinkled, prickly flesh a green chorus
with feijoas and fresh figs in a pottery bowl

and I need four gold coins for the special toothpaste
guaranteed to soothe receded gums and nerves

the papoose whimpers

I pluck two fruit from the sagging canvas shelf
extract gold coins from my purse
smile then wince when the wind targets my mouth

this is for the chokos
and these are for your child

she shakes her head
no no
takes one coin
presses the others back into my palm

I mean well but I’ve got it wrong
she lifts her chin

I left my island for a better life

another woman approaches
scoops up chokos
papa de los pobres! she exclaims

she sees a woman with empty cupboards
who’s taken to the streets to change things

stands to attention
salutes the urban activist

By Serie Barford and used with the permission of the author. Serie  was recently awarded the Seresin Landfall Residency.

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