A poem for May Day, remembering the young women who died: “The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire”

This is a true story told in Robert Phillips’ poem.

Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

by Robert Phillips

I, Rose Rosenfeld, am one of the workers
who survived. Before the inferno broke out,
factory doors had been locked by the owners,

to keep us at our sewing machines,
to keep us from stealing scraps of cloth.
I said to myself, What are the bosses doing?
I knew they would save themselves.

I left my big-button-attacher machine,
climbed the iron stairs to the tenth floor
where their offices were. From the landing window

I saw girls in shirtwaists flying by,
Catherine wheels projected like Zeppelins
out open windows, then plunging downward,
sighing skirts open parasols on fire.

I found the big shots stuffing themselves
into the freight elevator going to the roof.
I squeezed in. While our girls were falling,

we ascended like ashes. Firemen
yanked us onto the next-door roof.
I sank to the tarpaper, sobbed for
one-hundred forty-six comrades dying

or dead down below. One was Rebecca,
my only close friend, a forewoman kind to workers.
Like the others, she burned like a prism.

Relatives of twenty-three victims later
Brought suits.
Each family was awarded seventy-five dollars.
It was like the Titanic the very next year-
No one cared about the souls in steerage.

Those doors were locked, too, a sweatshop at sea.
They died due to ice, not fire. I live in
Southern California now. But I still see

skirts rippling like parachutes,
girls hit the cobblestones, smell smoke,
burnt flesh, girls cracking like cheap buttons,
disappearing like so many dropped stitches.

 

April 22, 2020, Fifty Years of Earth Day (and the first year of Covid-19)

The Peace of Wild Things

by Wendell Berry

 

When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the Wood Drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

 

 

Female Wood Duck with brood, Sycamore Pool, Bidwell Park.

 

Great Blue Heron, feeding on fish, Chico Creek, One Mile, Bidwell Park.

 

Male and female Mallards, Chico Creek, Bidwell Park.

 

Black Phoebe, One Mile dam, Chico Creek.

 

All of the above birds, and more, live and breed on Chico Creek in Bidwell Park.  Long may they thrive.