The woman in the doorway

by Anne Collins

Huddling under the doona
on a six-below-average night,
I think of people sleeping rough
like those camping on the domain
or the woman in the doorway of the empty shop.
My educated guess about her – mental illness, domestic violence – 
makes no difference to her pain.
What right do I have to label the experience
of one who has every right to own her story?

The season is turning to winter
and luxury is a hot drink.
I wonder who might be feeling the warmth
of my Antarctic-grade sleeping bag.
It’s not enough just to be donating
sleeping bags or money. It’s not enough
to be buying the Big Issue
or discussing things on Radio National.
What is enough?
Covid-19 has moved homeless people
into hotels. When they first wake up in the morning 
who do they think they are
with their long-lived sense
of social distance?

There are Romany people in Slovakia 
who have lived out winters
in tree-houses, like birds in a nest 
above the snow-covered ground. 
Survivors of history’s traumas
some with tattooed numbers on their arms, 
they are resilient beyond our imaginings,
defy any pity.

The woman in the doorway 
looks at me eye to eye
shakes her head ‘no’
to my offer of coffee and cake. 
‘I’m all right,’ she says.

Welcome essay:
I worked for over thirty years in the non-government sector on a range of social justice projects, including those projects that helped improve access to housing for people who were struggling and helped relieve homelessness. My ongoing concern about injustice continues to inform my writing. My family has also lived with the struggles of mental illness.

Poet biography:
Anne Collins’ four poetry collections are: How to Belong (Ginninderra Press, 2019); The Language of Water (Walleah Press 2014); Seasoned with Honey (with three other poets, Walleah Press 2008); and The Season of Chance (Walleah Press, 2005). She has also published a collection of prose and poetry: My Friends This Landscape, (Ginninderra Press 2011.) Further information about these books, as well as a full list of individual published works, awards, grants, residencies, collaborations and some sample poems can be found on her website at

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