the employed poor
by Martin Hayes
they have a car a job with no contract they work for a company that has
a zero-tolerance policy on sick days and non-attendance they have a
flat with heating and food they have a bottle of wine of a night
they cook a pasta dinner for their two kids they try to buy their
kids’ new clothes and a mobile phone but it’s never the right
ones always 2 or 3 generations behind they are healthy but
nervous strong but fragile they have nothing in their
hands or tucked away under their beds they
are only one withheld monthly pay cheque
away from disaster one boss’s decision
away from hunger one unfortunate
accident away from annihilation
one unplanned bill away from
tipping point one illness
away from seeing the
whole edifice of
their lives come
with no one
any of it
This poem is from a new collection from Martin Hayes called The Things Our Hands Once Stood For.
Martin Hayes is the only British poet who writes consistently and seriously about work, and about the insanity of a society where employees are seen as mere ‘hands’ whose sole role is to make money for the employer.
The publisher and poet Alan Dent has contributed an illuminating introduction. He says,
Hayes speaks for those whose lives are supposed to be not worth speaking about. He is intent on revealing the significance of the lives of ordinary people in the workplace. When current employment relations are consigned to the dustbin of history, and are viewed as we now view the feudal relations between lord and vassal, will people wonder why so little was written about it?
Martin’s poems are direct and simple, and full of black humour. Like the grainy black and white images that illustrate them so well, they expose and express the simple, terrible truth – that the human relation on which our society is based, that between employer and employee, is morally indefensible. The clear message of his poetry is that those who do the work should own, control, and benefit fully from it. They should, in the last words of the last poem, ‘start the revolution that will change everything’, and show that
all of our fingertips combined
might just be the fingertips
that keep us and this Universe
Martin Hayes has worked in the courier industry for 30 years. His latest collection is The Things Our Hands Once Stood For, published by Culture Matters.