Two Poems by Stephen House


the rubbish pickers in my Indonesian area
work late every night
searching through bins and rubbish piles
to retrieve plastic
they load on to a cart

i see them if i get home late
or rise early at dawn
sometimes have a chat
or bring out plastic bottles
i save in my room

it has always made sense to take part in their work
as they make money from what i offer
and i’m somehow involved with their recycling
for the garbage situation here is grim

the last month i’ve noticed they now collect paper
i’m sure they didn’t before
so i ask two of them about it one morning at 3am
as i arrive back in my street from a bar

and in our combined two languages
me slightly drunk from beer
they tell me times are tougher than ever before
and the paper helps out a little

it is easy to forget
how difficult life is for some
and i’m reminded as they share
there are days spent hungry
and illness can’t be treated
as a doctor is unaffordable

and so now in my saving up refuse way
i keep all of my scrap paper for them
and take it out with my plastic bottles
as they shuffle in dark for their living

“recycling” first appeared in Dissonance Magazine

dead men’s clothes

dead men’s clothes hang sadly limp
in a world of once-worn wares
beaten by time in her tin shed shell
she rubs her eyes
blinks twice
smeared pink lipstick
pasty rutted face
cloudy eyes in stance of age
acceptance of a sort

into her desert store of only what remains
i have come on my meandering way
threadbare fear of disintegrating middle age
another tick in time on a lonely icy day
muddled from substances
coming down
no room or bed tonight for me
or friend or family near

i try on a humble vest of era long gone
add a coat of wool in olive grandpa green
she smiles slight a knowing hint
at where i may have roamed to be
fingers sleeve with bony stroke
no one comes here anymore she says with only gaze
once it was different she breathes silently

thrift-shop queen won’t see me pay
gives sincerely her woven generosity
holds lost dreams in wrinkled brow
set in stone her quiet tenacity

our brittle selves meet and we freeze within our haze
knowing well our own mortality
reality of humanity probably

i am warm now walking on my never knowing way
through another vacant dustbowl extremity
i slow to stop
glance back
now safe in mothball tweed
she waves from pebbled path
stepped outside of her reality
and in my dead men’s clothes i signal back a simple nod
another moment wise
wandering and alive

“dead men’s clothes” first appeared in The Blue Nib

Stephen House has won many awards and nominations as a poet, playwright, and actor. He’s had 20 plays produced with many published by Australian Plays Transform. He’s received several international literature residencies from The Australia Council for the Arts, and an Asialink India literature residency. He’s had two chapbooks published by ICOE Press Australia: real and unreal poetry and The Ajoona Guest House monologue. His next book drops soon. He performs his acclaimed monologues widely.

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