Sisters In The Flames by Carol Tarlen

“spectators saw again and again pitiable companionships
formed in the instant of death–girls who placed their arms
around each other as they leaped. In many cases their clothing
was flaming or their hair flaring as they fell.
from “The Triangle Fire.”
The New York World, March 26, 1911

Greenhorn
bent over the machine
your hair a mass of red curls
like flames I said
my words extinguished
by the wailing motors
we never spoke
together we sewed
fine linen shirtwaists
for fine ladies we worked
in our coarse gowns and
muslin aprons 12 hours
in dark dank rooms
mine floors above the street
our fingers worked
the soft cloth
our coarse hands
fed the machines

Stranger
I saw you once in the elevator
going down going home
our eyes laughed
when I whispered too loud
strands of red hair falling
over our cheek and neck I
touched our red rough hand
my shoulders ached
in my coat pocket
for Papa for Mama
for the rent I need
a new skirt I need
a day in the sun
i need to unlock the doors
of this factory
I’m still young
I whispered and you laughed
because of course
we all were young

Sister
of the flames
take my hand
I will hold you in the cradle
of my billowing skirt
in the ache of my shoulders
the center of my palm our sisters already dance
on the sidewalk nine
floors below the fire
is leaping through our thighs
Sister together now fly
the sky is an unlocked door
and the machines are burning

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