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Archive for November, 2010

Triangle Shirtwaist Fire

 

Brown Building, National Historic site where the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire occurred, now owned by NYU, New York University

 

This coming year is the centennial of the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in New York City in 1911, in which many factory seamstresses died in a fire because the doors were locked.  As a result fire codes were developed which required unlocked escape exits.  The following poem was inspired by a photo of two women falling to their death.  I was moved to tears at this moment of terror and beauty captured in their final hour.  And I was horrified that the Triangle Shirtwaist company had locked the doors and the women were unable to escapte the fire.

 

 

 I was researching and writing a paper on Margaret Sanger, the mother of the birth control movement, and discovered that she had been one of the nurses attending the injured women.  Most of them did not survive the jump out of the windows, their only escape.

Triangle Shirtwaist Fire

New York City, March 25, 1911

By Diana Lischer-Goodband

               Copyright 1998

 

 

A drab coat of New York night

hems in the wanton light.

Singers clack like laying hens,

their bobbins bob, their needles mend.

The bell buttons down the day,

keys jangle past the time to stay.

A call rings through, a fire brews;

smoke drifts along the seam of gray.

Maggie cries: “The doors are locked”!

She strangles in thin air.

The swelter stalks in heavy knots,

and snakes along the pin-lit stair.

 

Young women falling from the sky

Aglow in blackened rain;

with flapping skirts and hose they fly

in raven screams of flame.

Mere spider-nets, the men hand-hold.

They do not know the laws

of the physics of objects bowled

along a sheet of gauze.

The three entwine as lovers,

shoot like arrows through the silk.

The cough of shredded flowers

they spill like mother’s milk.

The earth resounds with every crash,

such beauty have they broke.

The idol of the hourglass

baptized in soot and smoke.

Factory girls with shoveled hearts,

track the company’s unholy slaughter;

a burial fit for cast-off parts:

the grave of the unknown daughter.

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Sugarhouse foliage

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