Room Vacant

He’d been here for just on twenty years,
And had the little far room down behind.
At times you might pass him on the stairs
But otherwise he hardly crossed your mind.

The one continuing sign of him you saw
Was the crate of his empties out the back.
They’d clear them away and leave it bare,
Then steadily there’d grow another stack.

One way or another he’d earned a crust,
And the lodgings and the liquor were cheap.
For all those years he’d had a roof, at least,
Had scraped along with just himself to keep.

And yet time and the demons, undeterred,
Were ever nudging him towards his fate.
Increasingly unkempt and hollow-eyed,
He learnt the tender mercies of the state.

How casually they cut him off the dole
In line with some punitive little scheme,
The routine combing-out of those unable
To jump through the hoops of their regime …

We noticed no more empties out the back
And understood what anguishes it meant.
The landlord was giving the guy a break
By not confronting him about the rent.

We had to look the other way and let
The wordless little tragedy play through.
No gesture of concern could put it right.
This was what it was always leading to.

We could only wait for him to be gone,
And then at last he did a midnight bunk.
He took barely the clothes he stood up in.
We saw them cleaning out his bits of junk.

The sort of thing that happens every day
And mostly goes unnoticed and unsung.
Close the tiny margin that they cling by
And another drops off the bottom rung.

And that’s the fall you don’t recover from,
The dark you don’t return from any more,
The punishment for what, in Dickens’ time,
They used to call the Undeserving Poor.

And this is still that same world of course:
The vicious and the smug have all the clout,
And their lackeys all too eager to enforce
The creed of Getting On or Getting Out.

He had no aptitude to kick and gouge
And was crucified for that offence alone,
For being so heedless of the modern age
That the only life he harmed was his own.

Peter Kocan

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