Fire, by Carol Tarlen

for Jeon Tae-il, teenaged South Korean garment worker who in 1970 committed suicide to protest the lack of enforcement of existing labor laws

His clothes soak gasoline
his face sweats gasoline
his hair shines gasoline
he flicks the lighter
flames surge up his arms and back
illuminate the dark alley
of his labor
we are not machines he cries
fire consumes his flesh
we are not metal he screams
we eat dust, we cough blood
fall asleep at our sewing machines
they inject dope into our veins
our skin burns with each stitch
we beg for time to eat
we beg for time to sing
we beg for time to strip naked
we beg to see the night
to see the sun rise
we beg for time to piss
we beg to eat
we beg for work
we are flames
we are not machines
we are not the engines that feed your dreams
we are blood and flesh

I burn
I burn for the small chest bones
of the girls bent with tuberculosis
I burn for the days and nights of constant work
I burn for the laws that are pissed on
I burn for my mother and sisters
who sleep on torn blankets
spread on the bare floor
I burn for all my sisters
who spit blood into their cupped hands
I burn for my brothers
forced to die in Vietnam
I am a monk who burns for peace
I am a woman burned by Christian priests
I am Joan burned for liberation
I am a worker burned as she pounds
on the locked factory door
I am the Russian Jew burned in a pit at Babi Yar
I am the child whose burning hands
are thrust through the barred tenement window
I am their flesh, I am their dreams
I am flames
I am not a machine
I am not a machine
I am spirit
I am light
I am love

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