Thursday, December 02, 2004

Welfare Quean

How does capital compel individuals to submit to wage labor? In part, by stigmatizing the unemployed. How does it stigmatize the unemployed? By dividing the unemployed into "deserving" and "undeserving," making social welfare benefits for the "undeserving" short, meager, and subject to easy revocation. And by creating conditions for a depressing client-case worker relationship in which the case worker feels overworked and the client feels tyrannized and humiliated. Wanda Coleman's poem "Welfare Quean" perfectly captures the stigma of unemployment:
by Wanda Coleman

red-faced you follow the loony white line to the blue door where the 7 a.m. wait runs fifty deep

you in your unwashed crown your snaggled teeth your aircraft-carrier hips you're snotting all over America this bad gin morning fizzle you've just run out of tissues so you use the flap of your grimy muumuu worn fax paper thin the truth you've tried to peddle did not feed or free you but has trapped yon in the dungeon of working ass poor doings

you fill out white forms in blue ink twixt curses and prayers, check the red boxes

the helpers you consult are underpaid automatons who smell of bureaucratic bugkill yet sniff down their noses at you maurauder your larcenous fingers filching their taxes you tinsel thugsta robbing them of phone time with sweethearts you pernicious promiscuous sloven spreading VD, AIDS and black males

of course you're allergic to work, would rather

sleep till noon watch the soaps the blabfests the shitcoms
(low self steam) stand on street corners swiggin' grape
or sippin' coonshine loudtalkin' gamblin' prostitutin'

blue brained under the white sheets, gasping to the throb warning code red

a cliché with a skin condition as

seen by those spaced-out heads/those probing amber eyes narrowed to amused slits denying your claim on the dream o purple mountains of prose charting your failures as you nut up under the thunder of blows your majesty that kinkknot on your psyche of course you're guilty of breaking illusion and taking up too much sun of course you're guilty of looting the nation's coffers of course you're lucky

to have survived past thirty five—you

bloodwart on the schnoz of Christ (Poems for the Nation: A Collection of Contemporary Political Poems, ed. Allen Ginsberg, et al., Seven Stories Press, 1999)

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