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poetry Applying for AFDC

Applying for welfare support, the poet Lucille Lang Day discovers a shifting identity—the anxious applicant, the gaudy outfit she wears, the mirror between.

Applying for AFDC

By Lucille Lang Day

I sat in the Welfare Office

in nylons and spike-heeled shoes,

hair stacked to make my height

between six-two and six-four.

I wore a tight black sleeveless dress,

a black eyeliner mole

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on my right cheek, and a gold

snake bracelet coiled on my upper arm.

A woman in tennis shoes and a red muumuu,

who’d been waiting all morning,

cursed the girl at the desk.

A small boy yelled, “Right on!”

Social workers frowned in all the doorways.

I chain-smoked Marlboros

and paced the floor. Changing

my baby’s diapers for the third time

in the restroom, I noticed my shadow—

a flat lady, cringing in the corner.

The gaudy one in the mirror grimaced at me.

You’d think I owed them something—these

strangers I’d rather ignore.

Lucille Lang Day is the author of seven full-length poetry collections and four chapbooks. Her latest collection is Birds of San Pancho and Other Poems of Place (Blue Light Press, 2020). She has also coedited two anthologies, Fire and Rain: Ecopoetry of California and Red Indian Road West: Native American Poetry from California, and published two children’s books and a memoir, Married at Fourteen: A True Story. Her many honors include the Blue Light Poetry Prize, two PEN Oakland – Josephine Miles Literary Awards, the Joseph Henry Jackson Award, and eleven Pushcart Prize nominations. The founder and publisher of Scarlet Tanager Books (, she received her MFA in creative writing at San Francisco State University and her PhD in science/mathematics education at the University of California, Berkeley.