by Joan Colby

Maybe it was the lunchroom
where they met over baloney
sandwiches and pickles.
Western Electric. Seven
thousand workers. A new
age of communication.

Five ships reserved for the
outing. They carried picnic
baskets, laughing shoving, chatting
in Czech, Polish, Slovak, Hungarian, German.

Clambered on the first:
Eastland--Speed Queen of the Great Lakes.
The dancers shifted
to a ragtime beat on the
Promenade deck. Party-goers
crowded portside to wave
farewells. The ship
began, slowly, to list.

Below, they felt the surge as water
filled the cabins. These two on their first date
hurried to the rail. He grabbed her
and plunged overboard to seize
a rope and be pulled ashore.

Eight hundred forty four drowned
as the ship keeled over. Some trapped,
others flailing for barrels thrown
by onlookers. They never

got to celebrate the inauguration
of coast-to-coast long distance service.
Those two: Joe and Avina, drenched
and shuddering with their good luck

made their way, four days later
to the marriage bureau and said
the vows they believed had saved them.

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