Sewing machines line up in tidy rows like schoolgirls at dismissal. Girlish laughter, a babble of Yiddish, Italian, and English floats Through the air, cutting the loud thrum of the machines as the girls \ and machine becoming one instrument, an alchemy Of sorts. No fairytale this. Rather than spin hay to gold, the y sew pieces of cloth to shirts, for which Receive green not gold. Nothing gold can stay. Fabric eddies around their feet, white whorls, bits of white cotton Fly through the air like snow. It is cold and the factory feels chilly Despte the press of bodies. Outside in Washington Square Park, Gentlemen and ladies stroll through the park in shirtwaists & skirts, Fine suits, hats and parasols to protect their skin from the sun. The wealthy, their lives made out of whole cloth, the finest materials, walk through Washington Square Park, oblivious that young women, their lives pieced together From fragments, watch them from large picture windows, ten stories closer to the clouds. Late afternoon. Fabric and shirtwaists stacked in neat piles. Marbled monuments To youth, energy, work. An ember catches, smoke rises from below. Flames dance Along the walls, leap from one wall to another. A terrible beauty. It becomes clear that there is nowhere to go, no way to leave alive. A young woman steps up to the window frame, flings her hat into the air, opens her purse, Rains money down to the crowd below, who watch in horror. She jumps. A young man holds out his hand, helps a young woman onto the windowsill In another life, he would be helping her into a carriage. He holds her away from the building, lets her drop. In another life, he would be waltzing her in a ballroom. He does the same for a second and third woman. A fourth woman steps up, his love. They embrace, kiss. He holds her out into space Drops her. He follows, jumps with his hat on, wearing brown socks and black shoes. Pas de deux. Laws were passed. Everyone agreed “Never again”. 101 years later, 112 young women in bright shalwar kameez Enter the Tazreen factory, never to emerge. _________________________________________________________________________
Marceline White is a Baltimore-based writer. She writes policy, prose, poems, essays, and plays. An artist and activist, Marceline’s poetry has appeared in The Free State Review, The Loch Raven Review, The Shattered Wig Review, anthologies including Ancient Party: Collaborations in Baltimore, 2000-2010; and Life in Me Like Grass on Fire. Her essays and opinion pieces have appeared in Woman’s Day, Baltimore Fishbowl, Baltimore Sun, and Mother Jones.