Voices from the 9th Floor
Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, New York 
March 25th, 1911

Tomorrow morning, 
when you come to see us 
assembled like boxed shirts 
in the morgue,
picture us in our hand-stitched 
wedding gowns 
breathing the free air 
we once wished for.

Tell my fiance, I wanted 
to sing loving lullabies 
to our baby, a son 
in my dreams. Tell him goodbye.
Tell my sister there’s no need 
for her to scream 
when in her dreams she jumps 
from windows blazing, 
waking instead upon her 
blanketed soft bed.

Ask the man who locked the doors
to these rag-littered walls 
and paid us for each sewn collar, 
if he really believes the sum 
of our lives so small 
a piece, we’re worth only
seventy-five dollars.

And then let the girls know
who assemble in our seats, 
when the inspectors came, 
we too hid within the baskets 
and bolts of linen, 
quiet as mice, beneath 
the unmanned workbenches, 
seemingly well hidden. 

Tell them to rise 
and ask these would-be protectors 
for pretty rag dolls to give 
their even smaller sisters. 

And let girls who sit, 
obediently silent 
at seven at night and 
in the morning, Sing!
Like we girls do today 
on this warm spring Saturday, 
in chorus, pay pin-tucked 
inside our plain dark aprons 
and quitting time ten pieces away.

Singing because we still, 
dream of going home 
and falling exhausted
into weeping mothers arms.
Singing moments before 
we clasp our calloused fingers 
and leap arm-in-arm.

—Eli Cleary, Hamden, CT