Rosie’s Girls — by Julia Stein

[Reposted from Counterpunch‘s Poetry Basement, edited by Marc Beaudin.  Julia Stein’s poetry along with other work from the poetry anthology she edited, Walking Through A River Of Fire, will be read at a commemoration of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire,  Thursday, April 7, 2011.  The program begins at 3 pm, ends at 5 pm at Gage Gallery, 18 So. Michigan Ave; and will be followed by a screening of the recent American Experience documentary film on Triangle.  At 6 pm the Working Women’s History Project continues the commemoration with a special performance of a play written for this occasion, performed at their annual fundraising gala at Roosevelt University, 214 So. Michigan Ave. – Lew Rosenbaum ]

One of Rosie’s Girls

We union girls every Saturday walked to the Asch building,
yelled up to the eighth, ninth, and tenth floors, “So long
until victory is yours” to our sisters at Triangle Factory,
our sisters who lost their strike, the girls defeated
by scabs, their dreams of union smashed,
our sisters entrapped up the elevator eight, nine floors,
the girls who are locked in, one fire escape, no union
the floors covered with scraps of clothing,
the girls who screamed and burned in the fire.

After the terrible fire I walked numbly in the April rain

into the funeral march crowd that overflowed Washington Square.
My sorrow was enough to flood all of Fifth Avenue,
My rage was enough to flood all of Broadway.
They led the empty hearse first up through the huge arch,
then we walked silently eight abreast the rain hitting us hard
up Fifth Avenue the fine ladies in their frilly shirtwaists and the
fine gentlemen in their fancy suits on the sidewalk stared at us,
we were so drenched walking past the mansions of the rich.

We hissed and screamed from the floor, the galleries
packed with my brothers and sisters of the dead at
the Metropolitan Opera House memorial meeting;
we only quieted when Rosie Schneiderman, tiny steel wisp
with her flaming red hair, whispered,
‘This is not the first time girls have burned alive
in this city. Every week I must learn of the untimely death
of one of our sister workers. Every year thousands of us
are maimed.” Rose’s voice was our voice was my voice.

We followed Rose across the Lower East side hoisting her up
to speak. Rosie with her flaming red hair at the street meeting told us
the Governor ignited a commission to investigate.
All those meetings for five years she gave us hope telling us
the commissioners crawled through the tiny hole in the wall
to the steep iron ladder covered with ice, the factory’s only
fire escape, visited canneries where five-year olds snipped beans,
seven year olds shelled peas, saw machinery that
scalped women, cut men’s arms off. We followed her.

I was one of Rosie’s girls who helped leaflet for her meetings
every noon and evening telling our sisters and brothers
the legislator passed, the governor signed laws making it
safe to work. We walked the streets leafleting our people
in the factories and stores to speak up speak up until the sprinklers
were installed, fire escapes built up the sides of factory buildings,
the doors to the factories unlocked. My sorrow lessened,
still March 25 every year I take a bunch of daisies to
Evergreen Cemetery, lay it on the grave of a Triangle girl.

Julia Stein is the editor of the anthology Walking Through a River of Fire: 100 Years of Triangle Poetry (C.C. Marimbo).  She also has four previous books of poetry: Under the Ladder to Heaven, Desert Soldiers, Shulamith, and Walker Woman.


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