On Labor History And The Immortal Ego
by John Repp


    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
    bearing down.

    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.

    Fatted Calf

    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.

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