Waiting Without A Number
by Karisma Rodriguez

The welfare line wrapped around the walls
Of the windowless room like dirty money
Around a hungry child's throat --it was impossible
To breathe or stay clean. Full of desperation,
We were trapped inside blank boxes
Asking for a telephone number
We could never afford to keep.
They arranged the seats like dominos--
Everyone connected but facing
Opposite directions. I wandered off
Because I was young and I could,
Because my mother was fastened
To her seat by my baby brother
And his dirty diapers she could not replace.

The television was stuck on a channel
No one wanted to watch. We missed
Our soap operas because they told
More entertaining lies than the news
Anchors who promised the wealthy
And middle classes Welfare Reform
Was going to improve our lives as if
To alleviate their guilt before dinnertime.

The first place I talked to a man
With a wheel chair for a home
And a small blanket stuffed into the hollow
Of his left camouflage pant leg
Was in a welfare waiting room?
I felt safer there than in the streets, brave.
Confined, it was impossible to escape his smell.
I couldn't tell if he was crazy or sane,
I didn't know the definitions at that age.
But he called me "young lady"
Instead of little girl, and I was hungry
For respect. Don't wait here forever,
He laughed. You won't be able to remember
If you're alive or dead. I fled
Back into the arms of my mother
Still waiting in line.

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