20 poems…two in one day: Triangle Shirt-waist anaphora

The fire that changed New York's fire regulations.
The fire that changed New York’s fire regulations.

I have long been haunted by the Triangle Shirt-waist fire. Much has been written about this, and it certainly changed fire-regulations in New York. Just too late for the many, mostly girls, who died horrifically on that afternoon. I have written a few things about this fire over the years, none of them quite satisfactory. But I must keep trying. So today I have explored the anaphora form, in another, clumsy attempt, to honour those women.


They struck for better pay and conditions

They struck a year before it happened

They met on the fire-escape landing

There they planned their strike

They worked on the Sabbath

They worked on the Jewish Sabbath

The Jewish Sabbath was also pay-day

They worked hard

They cut, they sewed, they ironed.

They worked for their families.

Their families from Italy and Germany and Russia.

They worked on the ninth floor

They worked surrounded by paper, thread, cloth.

Their machines were banked up next to each other

They chatted while they sewed, banked up next to each other.

They worked while machine oil soaked through the floor.

It struck, in the afternoon.

It struck when the room was full of girls

Working, banked up next to each other

It burnt through the thread

It burnt through the paper

It burnt through the cloth

It burnt through the floor soaked through with machine oil

They ran to the fire-escape

They ran to the water-hoses.

They scratched at the locked fire-escape

They held the dry water-hoses.

They burnt at their machines, banked up next to each other

They burnt in a pile by the fire-escape door

They burnt as they jumped from the ninth-floor windows

They leapt to the ground rather than burn

They leapt so that their families

From Italy, from Germany, from Russia

Could identify their bodies

They struck the cold pavement so hard

The fire-horses reared from the smell of blood.

They stuck the fire-escape  so hard, collapsed and killed them

They were a load of cattle, that struck, that burnt, that died.

The youngest was fourteen.



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