Celeste Augé – Things You Find Out

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There are things you find out: not all homeless people sleep on the street. Some sleep in B&Bs, some in hostels, some in hotels. Some couch surf with friends and family until they wear out the welcome. Some sleep on a nine-year-old niece’s bedroom floor in a borrowed sleeping bag. None are seen. Some sleep in parks or doorways or small tents on Grattan Road and they’re invisible, too. You give the local street sleeper some loose change when you have it, but you always give him a hello, how are ya Iggy.
No one tells you that official forms aren’t enough. It’s a year since you handed over the keys to your home and you are not considered an emergency. No one tells you that you’ll need a weighty politician, a terrier councillor, Joe Duffy or Prime Time, a brace of children — preferably with complications — or a wandering amnesiac mother. No one tells you that Galway Council’s definition of homeless is quite strict: you must have no accommodation available which you can reasonably occupy or remain in occupation of. Not having a secure roof over your head, not having a kitchen, sleeping on a mouldy foam mattress, not having somewhere you can call home: none of this is enough. Learn the Marvin Gaye song: Wherever I Lay My Hat (That’s My Home). This is your new truth.
You are now sofa-less, chair-less. You end up walking a lot. To the city library for a sit down or some warmth or a Cannery Row book for a visit with Doc. To A&E, watch a bit of telly from a plastic chair and hope that security don’t notice you in the midst of broken ankles and broken hips and broken hearts. You fall asleep standing up in the queue for coffee and on the bus to Blackrock and back to the Square.
Your best-girl smile is never enough. When you put on your posh voice, the one your mother taught you to use with teachers and bosses and Americans, it is not enough. Running a comb through your hair, even a straightener, is not enough. You are separate, other, you are alone, it is as though the world senses your desperation.
You scrounge off your friends and you will never be able to repay them. You sometimes forget to say thank you or you say it too much. With a bit of luck, your oldest friends will be patient. On the worst days, you end up avoiding them. (On the best days you’re able to pretend normal for a while.)
You will never totally lose the panic feel — years later — when a brown envelope arrives with your name on it, when the phone unexpectedly rings, when the doorbell rings and you don’t recognise the ghost through the frosted glass. You will never leave the shame behind. Even when you have finally got a safe roof over your head, in ten – fifteen – twenty years’ time you still don’t want to think about it, talk about it, remember how it felt in the pit of your stomach the day you lost the key to your front door. The day you reduced everything you owned to two black bin liners. Then one. Then an old Powers Gold Label box because that was easier to carry with you.
Magical thinking will get you nowhere — you won’t win the lotto, your sister won’t win the lotto, someone famous will not take pity on you or take a fancy to you, someone rich will not rescue you, the bookies won’t pay out when it counts, that prize bond your Granny bought you when you were nine will not buy you a house in Roscommon or Ballinasloe.
Magical thinking will be what saves you — in your darkest bleakest moments when you can’t sleep for the worry or the audible DTs of the woman in the next bed and you know, you know, deep in the pit of your stomach or your soul (which feel about the same now), you know this is all your fault, you deserve it, you brought it on yourself for having that last row with your boss, your boyfriend, your ruinous Xanaxed mother, that you were never any good — in these moments you will dream the winning numbers and you will believe against all worldly sense that you will be saved, that you will be lifted into your true-roof life.
You will learn to lock away a very small part of you somewhere safe, where no one else can reach. You will go there when the social welfare officer loses your claim. You will go there when you are told you will not get supplementary welfare allowance. You will go there when you sit in a queue in the rain, waiting to find out if you’ll have a bed later that night. No one else will ever see that space. No one can claim it. It is tiny and it is all you have. You carry it with you, buried deep under the shame.
Inside it, you keep the decorations, the mod-cons, the furnishings for your home. The oak bed from Habitat, the lace curtains you spotted in Dunnes. Useless, multi-coloured cushions. Nothing matches, but that’s okay. You’re still adding to it: industrial lamps, bentwood chairs, reclaimed doors. You take what you need, keep it safe, for later. The home you carry is yours, all yours.

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Celeste Auge
Celeste Augé is the author of "Skip Diving" (Salmon Poetry, 2014), "The Essential Guide to Flight" (Salmon Poetry, 2009) and the collection of short stories "Fireproof and Other Stories" (Doire Press, 2012). World Literature Today has said that "Celeste Augé’s poems are commendable for their care, deep thought, and intellectual ambition”. Her writing has been widely published in literary journals and she has given readings at festivals, libraries and pubs, as well as chairing literary events. Celeste’s poetry has been shortlisted for a Hennessy Award and in 2011, she won the Cúirt New Writing Prize for Fiction. She lives in Connemara, in the West of Ireland.