What I know of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire I know
from a Robert Pinsky poem, a book of poems that won a prize
and David Goldberg, labor historian last glimpsed at a Gulf station
on Murray Avenue, Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, 1983.
He worked concessions at Three Rivers Stadium and stitched
a paragraph a day into his book on the garment industry.
In another lifetime, we were house mates, Red Sox fans,
political antagonists. I brandished Kropotkin, praised Bill Lee.
He favored Debs, Yaz, the social utility of Al Smith's Tammany.
At the gas station, we caught up on five years, made promises,
wagged our heads at the odds, the stupefying, sulfuric heat
Anna Wolf Dances
My grandmother turned eighteen in 1911,
a bushel of blonde curls overturned on her head.
She and her friend Boyd rode the train six days a week
to the Lower East Side. Farms in Astoria. Horse-drawn wagons
even in the city. Noise. Believe it or not, more noise then.
They did piece-work on huge tables.
Once, when the boss locked the door behind him,
my grandmother climbed up and danced
while the others sang and clapped. See her up there
in ankle-high shoes? See her laughing in the heat,
the only visible flesh her face and flying hands?
I've wanted to get her up on that table again since 1976.
I want to learn more, or at least check the details, but she died
seventeen years ago Halloween. Fate. I write Fate without irony.
My grandmother would never have smiled from the rusted steps
of her fragrant trailer while I snapped the photograph
tacked now and forevermore on my bulletin board
had she found a job at Triangle and flown so bright that day.
Of course, I wouldn't be here at all, a truth blatant enough
for the next four Deepak Chopra books. I promise to learn more,
but I've promised that before. After all, at twenty I drenched myself
in Kierkegaard, and twenty-five years later Soren waits
at a Blimpie's just inside the Piscataway city limits.
Blues for Lettieri
Beloved soul. I write soul without irony. Call me stunted,
but even at 46 I want reasons. No, Yahweh, I wasn't there
when You spoke the first Word. What Job deserved
should have mattered. I'd kiss Mortimer Snerd's
tiny white bucks if he clapped out his puppet mouth
commandments that killed aright and left the rest.
I don't want to be in this poem. I want I killed,
but I can never die. Ron Lettieri died.
The first day of school, a stroke cut him down.
Brain accident the doctors call it. Another labor historian,
New Left division. Each May 4 at our podunk college,
he wore a black armband and dropped hints
so the philistines could twist the catgut
of bitterness inside him. Between classes,
we despaired of doing any good, he with his Zinn,
me with my Whitman. He drank weak coffee
from a Styrofoam cup, beads of brown spittle
trembling on the hairs of his long mustache.
At will, I can see him walk toward me
with some fat book under his arm, pipe fuming,
the Chelsea street argot gushing out his mouth.
Where is Lettieri? Where is Goldberg? Where is Anna Wolf?
I don't want them embalmed in this poem.
I will send this poem to its fate, though I would burn
all poetry to have my loved ones back.
No I wouldn't. Couldn't.
I'm not that deluded.
Poetry dies when the sun dies,
everyone tacking home to Ithaka.