Friday, December 19, 2014

A Letter to my 14 year old self

Hey—you were in the Lucy-home.
There, that’s it, the password.
You know I’m you. So please
You are hurting. I’m not here to say
That you’ll forget about all this
That it won’t matter in the end
Because it does. It shapes us
But you’ve got to be ivy.
You can keep these roots, they’ll stay and stay and stay
But keep growing. Move outward.
Not today. Not tomorrow. Over time.
No one snapped their fingers for us, Princess.
Nothing changed in a single chapter, but—it did
It hurts now, and nothing I say promising
A better tomorrow will change that
I know. I know.  I know.
Cry on my shoulder, let me hold you close
Our heart still beats.
You made it. You will make it.
No easy path set before us, but you kept walking.
Darling, don’t throw in the towel.
Remember how you feel now and know
It can’t last. It won’t last. And you are not alone.
I know you’ve heard this speech from all of them:
Mom, Dad, Mrs. Watson, all.
You rolled your eyes but I’m telling you—

This will pass, the day to day pain. 
Hold on.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

come true

For Honeybee

Mella’d always wished for an adventure.  Her childhood had been full of wooden swords and dress-up capes.  She’d daydreamed about finding a genie’s lamp and wishing on it-I want a friend, I want a million dollars, I want an adventure like the ones in my books. It was funny, really, that so often she’d put a box of matches or a mirror or an old tape recorder in her backpack, thinking, just in case. She’d stopped doing that in seventh grade, but she’d never stopped hoping. Dreaming. Wishing.

And now it was happening, really happening. Not the way she’d thought, but details didn’t matter. Yes, it hurt that she wasn’t the Hero, wasn’t the one Chosen by Fate to save the world. But who was she to complain? Magic was real. Unicorns were real, other worlds and prophecies and magic swords were all real, even if she didn’t truly have a place there. Even if it was only luck that she had been dragged along.

Years of wishing and reading and dreaming had led to this. She would make the most of it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014


for Honeybee

The Summer sunlight
gleamed on the water
like a sheet of beaten gold
emerald in the shadow of the pines.

Breathe in the smell of the forest,
the smoke from wildfires
that color the night sky
too far away for evacuation
and the dust of dried pine needles
and the crisp winter of juniper berries
breathe in, and in, and in

You will have to leave someday
but the birds still sing,
the stream glitters and gurgles
the little cabin in the woods
my retreat from the world
still stands secluded
waiting for a return

Saturday, September 13, 2014


For Honeybee

It started as a rainy day attic raid, years after the last one.
As a little girl, Reina loved to look through the boxes and trunks with old fashioned locks that lay in her attic, covered in dust. They’d belonged to Gran, who had died when she was six. The whole house had, but when Mom and Daddy had divorced the next year, Daddy had moved into the sprawling house with the huge attic, and Mom hadn’t been there to tell Reina that playing in dusty attics would get her dresses dirty. Reina knew that anyway, but she’d found a costume her first trip up, a long red shirt that she belted at the waist. It was soft and warm, and felt like an embrace.  So she wore that and got dust in her hair and eyes, searching out small treasures.
Once, she found old books, but the writing was in strange marks she couldn’t read. They weren’t Japanese, like how Daddy’s dad had used to write, but they weren’t in English either. So Reina put them aside. Books were boring, anyway. She loved the dresses in cloth wrappings, silks and velvets in different colors. She loved the jewelry, but after dad caught her wearing a shiny gold necklace that looked like the sun, he said she should wait till she was older.
She loved the paintings best, little ones, big ones, on wood and on canvas. The colors were faded, and blurred, and all felt—odd. Like someone painting from a faded memory, the colors blurring at the edges.
There were forests, mountains, a lake that shone with sunlight on the surface. There was a castle.
Reina remembered the castle, tall and proud, and carrying with it the feeling of home.
She remembered it when Dad’s work started taking him on long trips around the world, and she’s had to start living full time with mom.
It because her focus when the attacks started, the despair taking root in her heart. She focused on the serenity, the longing, that the painter had captured. When she was Manic, she drew it, over and over until the image was gouged into her desk and her mind.
When she was 17, she found herself on the quest of a lifetime, something out of fairy tales and the fantasy stories she’d never liked reading. She’d gone to another world, another life. She’d gotten dust in her eyes and hair, had fought bandits and wicked kings, had worn a red dress melted at the waist. But it had not been in her attic, a daydream of a bored child. This had been real. She had been someone, more than just a disappointing daughter, more than just herself. And that—that had felt right. She had felt home in the trees of Celravoc. Returning had not felt like returning. It had felt like leaving something behind.
She’d been grounded after that—disappearing for a month has consequences, above nightmares. And the rain had cut the power, so she’d gone back to the attic. She did not need a flashlight, not with a globe of light in her hand.
The castle was dimmer than she remembered, as if the painter had seen it through glass fogged over by rain. She had forgotten that turret, the color of the roof tiles, the way it sat over the lake. And seeing it reminded her again of home. She knew the castle now. She would not let if fade in her mind again.
She was a year older when she returned. They had Promised, and kept their word, not like mom, not like dad. She’d gone back, her glaive in her hand, her friends at her side.
And on this quest, this journey, she had finally understood.
Because just beyond the Linagard mountains, past the forests of Stars and standing watch over the town of Linina, Reina saw a stone house, like a mother watching over her children.
It was her Castle.

She was Home.

Thursday, September 11, 2014


After a winter of snow,
Grey and white and brown,
Silver skies high with clouds
The sun bursts free, and with it
Life, Colour.
Buds on bare branches gleam gold
And flowers push up, scarlet, carmine,
Heliotrope, azure, the orange of a sunset
The pink of a rabbit’s inner ear,
The world is an oil painting blaze,
Welcome after a life-time
of watercolors through my window.
White skirt, the cotton sun-spun and sun-dried
Silver leaves braided into brittle hair
The sun warms my too pale skin,
As, giddy with the smell of melting snow and growing things
I dance through the mud and soil
Putting down roots and titling my face up

Like a flower reaching for the sky.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

the Hike

For Honeybee

It was a long hike.
Dust and sweat turned our legs grey
And our clothes were stiff
From drying in the sun
But it was—worth that.
Worth the blisters and the sun burn
In the part of my hair.
The ache of my left foot
The pain in my right knee
To see the Falls—

The force of wind and water
working as one to deafen us
The mist rising up from where the rush
met stillness
gleaming like liquid diamond dust
the green and the white,
the blue and the grey
one wash of color through blurred glasses
It was worth every aching step.

And for one moment, captured forever in memory
Mine and a camera’s
More colors glow-gleamed,
A rainbow in the spray.

It was only one of thousands of waterfalls, and I know
There are longer ones, grander ones--
But that .
does not feel right.
This one sits on my heart like a pumice stone, present
But light as mist
Born away by the wind
It was beautiful,
More than any I have only seen in pictures,
Because I felt the wind, the mist, heard
The Roar.

And, of course, because I walked every step,
Surrounded by chattering friends, but I stood there
On the lip, looking down
On my own two feet, even if only one

Is flesh.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Fog: Three Haiku

From where I stand
The world is gone, a vast sea
Of endless white fog

Nothing remains here
All is still -- and silently
Watching the sun rise

I look out and see
White covering the earth

But—oh!—not the sky.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Childhood Smells

For Honeybee Open Prompt
My Childhood smelled like Dirt.

My childhood smelled like
Dirt, not grit or dust, but
half rotted oak leaves and moist redwood
decay and jungle.

My childhood smelled like
the orange  plastic bat that warped in the sun
and hit the fuzz off tennis balls
 over the fence.

My childhood  smelled like
grandma’s chocolate chip cookies
that came from rolls of dough
and tasted better than Mom’s anyway.

My childhood smelled like
broccoli, cooked long in oil
till we said it smelled like brownies
and loved every tree of it.

My childhood smelled like
hamsters- fur, bedding, seeds
always escaping to roam the house
and having babies under the stove.

My childhood smelled like
cheap serial novel
sthat came in sets of thirty
and 80 pages long I read them all.

My childhood smelled like
Daddy’s TR4Triumph
that belched more gas
than my brother after tacos.

My childhood smelled like
tin bandaid boxes
because you can only explore so many trails
before you scrape your knee.

My childhood smelled like
chlorine and bromine and water
before I saw Jaws, at least
and vowed away from swimming pools.

My childhood smelled like
hamburgers and shake-it salads
and the mill valley Mcdonalds
where dad told stories on the way home.

My childhood smelled like
vinegar, and wood polish
when we’d skate around in our socks
and clean all the floors wrong.

My childhood smelled like
the mothballs that lived
in the closet where I made a nest
and hid from dinosaurs.

My childhood smelled like
brightly colored poster paints
that came in all the colors, even pink
and I painted a thousand rainbows.

My childhood smelled like
reed shavings and violin rosin
and sounded like  an orchestra of two
Mom and dad playing different melodies.

My childhood smelled like
Grandpa’s pink roses
that bloomed into crowns of color
and didn’t have thorns.

My childhood smelled like
Cherry poptarts and hot chocolate
covered with pink glaze and creamed froth
eaten at the window ledge.

My childhood smelled like
grass cuttings we threw like snowballs
and snapped off bamboo
used like hero’s blades.

My childhood smelled like
sidewalk chalk
even though Cragmont avenue
doesn’t have sidewalks to color.

My childhood smelled like
the astroturf field
where I learned to ride a bik
and crashed into the soccer net- goal.

Thursday, August 7, 2014


For Honeybee 1

Grandad grew roses
Peach, yellow, red
And one bush,
The child bush,
We called it,
Of pink buds,
Pale in early morning light.
It was our favorite because it
Didn’t have thorns.
They say love is a rose-
Sweet and beautiful
But fierce
If that is true, then these roses
Were Grandad
All scent and petal silk

No thorns

Thursday, June 19, 2014


I always thought that, if the zombie apocalypse happened, it’d be like in the movies. Something that huge and terrifying, something like that—the world can’t just pick up where it left off, you know? There’d be years of hiding and fighting and trying to find a cure, and maybe there wouldn’t be one, and nothing would ever be the same.

I’d day-dream about it, sometimes. Dad always said I watched too many movies.  But I’d imagine myself, in some ratty, torn up outfit, leading a rag-tag bunch of orphaned kids, looking for a haven, living on old twinkies and stale soda that the looters had left behind because who drinks that Shasta stuff anyway?

I prepared, too, just in case, which is probably the reason Dad said I was paranoid. I kept a kit by my bed, with add-water dinners, and pocket knives, and a massive first-aid kit. I even asked Dad to teach me to shoot a gun, but seeing as how he’s a vegetarian-ex-hippy living in San Francisco, that didn’t go over too well.

I’m Rosemary, by the way. Rosemary Rose. What kind of parents name their kid Rosemary when they’ve got Rose for a last name? Not the point, yeah, yeah, but still, I promise it ties in, a little.

Back to the Zombie thing. I’d always imagined it like in the movies, and that show where the grass is always neat and trim even though there’s this crisis going on? It’d be forever. The end of the world, lasting years and years and years, and leaving this massive scar on anyone who witnessed it and lived.

It didn’t. Last years and years, I mean. It didn’t even last one. The Zombie Apocalypse, as they’re calling it, lasted exactly thirteen minutes, and I was smack dab in the middle of it.

Ok, back to my name, just for a minute. Rose, as in, Clan Rose, of Scotland, which is so tiny it’s a wonder they weren’t swallowed up, but they weren’t. Dad is huge into family history, so every year since I can remember, he’s dragged me to the Scottish Games at the Alameda fairground, an hour away from home. And, since he runs the Clan Rose tent, we have to get there at six AM. Yeah, yeah, I know, zombies. I’m getting there, keep your pants on. I’m telling a story here.

The Games are actually pretty cool, for a couple of reasons. Number one: Meat. Dad’s a vegetarian. I am not, and the Games have some of the best food, much better than mystery meat at the school caf. Scotch eggs, meat pies, bangers, turkey legs, even haggis, which is not that gross. Better than quinoa. Reason 2: if you grow up in SF, the only way to stand out is to be bizarre, which for me, means costumes and props, and the Games have great stuff. Bodices, Fairy wings, shoulder mounted robot dragons, enough buttons and patches to cover a couple tents….It’s kinda hard to run in a bodice, which was a problem with the whole Zombie thing—I’m getting to it, what are you, five?—but reason three negated that: weapons. Booths and booths of ‘em. Swords, maces, morningstars, axes, glaives…it’s sweet. You have to be eighteen to buy one, though. Still, everyone at the Games either has a weapon, or is within a few feet of one.

So anyway, I was at the Games, looking at earcuffs, already sweating because it was like 90 degrees at 9 AM, and I was wearing this bodice which was a little too tight, but still looked awesome. And suddenly there was all this shouting from outside the vendor building, real shouting. At first I thought that someone was already drunk on whiskey and had started a fight, but it wasn’t that kind of shouting, not the laughing kind, but the oh my gosh, earthquake/fire/Godzilla kind of screaming, the panicked kind, and people were rushing through the Young California Vendor’s building but not out the other side. They weren’t running from, they were running to, and they swept me along with ‘em, scattering pretty sparklies on the ground and I couldn’t even breathe. We ended up at this one booth full of swords, the kind that have real sharp blades, and the vendor starts shouting at them.

“No, no! Hands off!” he went, and he was this big scary guy in a bright purple kilt, all tatted up with biceps like my head. But he didn’t get a chance to ask what was going on as these people grabbed for swords and moms shoved their kids under tables, because then, then, they came in.

The Zombies, I mean.

I could tell they were zombies, even though their clothes weren’t rags and they didn’t have missing limbs (at first). It was in how they moved, stumbling, and the blood around their mouths and their skin--waxy and blue, like if they were underwater. And the way they were shouting for brains and flesh.

Cliché? Maybe, but are you gonna argue with a zombie?

So I was right there, next to this glaive taller than I am, and I ignored the “must be 18 to touch weapons” sign and grabbed it, and then, bang, the doors burst open and there were more people, some zombies, followed by Not-Zombies, and it was like in Lord of the Rings or Narnia, this huge battle, right in the middle of the vendor’s building, and I was back to back with Purple Kilt. One of the zombies got real close, her arms all cankerous and blotched, and I swung.

Glaives are heavier than they look, so I missed her head, but I cut her pretty good, and it smelled sick. She staggered back and tried to grab me, and then some guy behind her with a sword took off her head. I’d never seen that happen in real life. Some guys came running in with a caber, the big telephone pole things that people toss, and used it like a ram, knocking into zombies so that people like my rescuer and Purple Kilt could get them.  I charged into battle, my heart like the pipe band’s rattle drum, hardly able to breathe I was so terrified. The tight bodice didn’t help. It was nothing like what I’d dreamed, there so much chaos, and blood…

It was right about then that I passed out. So much for glory.

When I woke up, it was nine fifteen, there were cops in hazmat suits everywhere, everything was trashed and I wanted to puke but I didn’t because I hadn’t gotten my scotch egg before all hell broke loose. They told everyone that no one was allowed to leave the fairgrounds because of contagion and there had to be a quarantine and stuff, so I booked it for the Rose tent where I found Dad, and he just looked at me, all covered in blood and hugged me.

“I told you so,” I said, because I had told him so, that Zombies were real and someday he’d be glad I was so prepared. He made this noise, like a laugh and a sob all together, and we just sat there in the tent with the other Roses who came to be with family.

They made announcements over the loudspeaker system, and my cousin's pipe band played Scotland the Brave while some General or Corporal in the army made a speech, about how this medical facility two miles down the freeway had been doing tests, and then, poof, Zombies, and they’d gone after the nearest group of people, us, and how certainly we had all saved the world by stopping the…yadda yadda yadda. It went on, and the bagpipes drowned him out a little.

Some soldiers, also in hazmat suits, came by to get our names to match to the ticket records so they could see how many people were dead, and told us that if we needed food or blankets, we could go to the big arena where they did the caber toss, because a plane would be dumping supplies there pretty soon.
“Like in an hour? You mean we aren’t on our own, left to fight for our lives?” I asked. The guy laughed.
“You watch too many movies,” he said.

The pipe bands competed, and the sheep dog trials. Life went on. There wasn’t much to do except go on with the Games, since no one could leave. People called family to assure them everything was fine, it was all over. I counted six news copters in the air, too, but mostly people on the ground just tried to pretend it was one of the staged, living history things. It got hotter, the ice-cream stands sold out, little kids cried….just like every year. The Young California Vendor’s building was off limits, but there were still places to shop. I got my meat pie--at twice the normal price, ugh—and bought a book. Unicorns. I was sick of Zombie stories.

So there it is, “how I survived the zombie apocalypse/ helped contain the zombie virus and saved countless lives, etc, etc, etc.” I got a medal, everyone at the Games did. Some people wrote books, about how if it’d been any other group of people but Scotsmen/women, the world’d have been doomed. I’m not sure about that, but it certainly didn’t hurt.  And let me tell you, it made one heck of a “What I did over my summer vacation” essay.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

To the girl across the aisle

How many children of Israel,
born into the Covenant,
fell away into Idolatry?
How many Converts
growing up faithless
found truth
and held fast?

Knowing this, that the faith
of the father influences
but does not determine
his daughter's,
how can you sit there,
across the aisle from me,
and call my mother
quote: So, so, so, so dumb?

How dare you claim
that she will fall away
into idolatry
because she was married
in her mother's living room.

You sit there and insinuate
that my faith is worth less
than yours,
is shakier not because
I have felt abandoned by God,
but because my father
didn't sit next to me at church.

Being Covenant-born does not make
a child perfect, free from sin
or temptation.
I have seen temple marriages fall apart.
I have seen the children of two
 devote Members,
Holy as Angels,
turn to drugs, skip church
to smoke, worshiping
the Idol of pornography.
And I have seen two people
who love and support
each other,
who share values but not religion.

How dare you say that
the children of such
people, pure in love,
are ticking time bombs,
falling away into Idolatry,
that I will make all the wrong choices
and only bring grief?
I am not a miracle, exception to the rule.
My faith is mine, not because of my mother's,
not in spite of my father's.
It was mine to doubt, mine to choose.

And then, how dare you
simper, say you are
sorry that I was offended,
putting all the blame on me.
Because of course, I chose to be offended
when you insult who I am,
who my family is.
With unchristian ignorance
you chose to offend.
You do not apologize for your words
your implications, for calling my mother
quote: So, so, so, so dumb.

Call me what you want:
faithless, worthless
don't hide behind "I don't mean it"s
you only add when I stand up.
you meant it when you spoke about others
in my situation.
but my mother's faith
saved me,
she is my world
my best friend.
Call me what you will, 
but don't you dare touch my mother.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Sky Stained with Smoke

tenth floor and roof                                                                                                                                                   

Blinded by smoke and tears
an Italian prayer on her lips,
she stumbles, catching her shin
on the  Green Street stairs.
A rough hand grabs her arm
hauls her to her feet.
"Tessie, move!" her rescuer says,
or she thinks he says, his words
are nothing like her Papa's.

He leads her and others up
not down, to a rooftop
where the sky breaks through grey air,
blue stained with smoke.
At last she can breathe
she looks at the faces of the others,
searching and not finding.
The next-door building's roof
is too far above this one
and Tessie wonders if
they have come here to die.
Then someone lowers a ladder
over the side.
Her burned hands throb as she climbs.

They all flood into this building, a school,
with flame free stairwells,
 but it is not until NYU students,
jabbering in English,
have led her to the streets
full of watchers pale with horror
that she realizes.
She asks, haltingly,
"Where is Vincenzia? Please,
she was on the ninth floor."
No one answers
as another body,
shirtwaist gleaming in the sun,



Ninth floor

"The doors open in!
No one hears her, just one more voice.
The ninth floor workers throw
themselves at metal doors,
screaming: Ratevet! Auidami! Help!

The flames are drawing closer,
like too hot blankets
and fear-sweat sticks Kate's shirtwaist
to her back, to her girl's chest
too tight to breathe.

Someone screams in Yiddish
and the crowd, hands trembling,
moves back just enough.
The fire licks at their skirts.

"Hail Mary," Kate whispers
against the hot air.
The doors shudder as girls pull,
the metal burning their hands.
They do not let go
but the door--

the door is locked.


March 25th 2011

Red ink on white
the Cornell website's list
of victims,
not blood on cloth, but
names, ages.
I have known the stories,
the numbers,
one hundred forty six dead,
too many to imagine.
Reading now for research’s sake
I'd tried to distance myself,
but my heart falters.
I read my own name:
Sixteen years old.
Suddenly these girls are more
than names on a list
more than digital ink.
I picture myself at sixteen:
unable to tame Italian curls,
Papa telling me the stories
his Italian Mama told him.
Perhaps she knew those same stories.
Perhaps she too fought
with her brother,
but loved him all the same.
Who might she have been,
I wonder. What dreams did she hold
in her heart,
and what prayers did she think

as she leaped?

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Sonnet for the Seven,

April 3rd 1911                                                                                                                                                            Evergreen Cemetery                        

The rain came down and soaked the streets too late
too late to stop the flames that caused such pain
for our city. And as we walked, the weight
upon our hearts did break the floodgate chain.

"Abide with me, Abide with me," we sang.
Half-million strong we gathered round and cried
with Jew and Gentile, all our voices rang,
remembering the day our daughters died.

But for these sev'n I only placed my stone
upon the graves, and others did so, too.
We could not let them be buried alone,
they had no names or faces that we knew.

So in this April rain, we vigil keep
and for their mothers, sisters all, we weep.

Thursday, March 6, 2014


Red ink spiders across the page,
slashing out words, underscoring sentences 
that don't make sense. 
Script jagged from frustration
spells out the problems:
"Is that your thesis?" 
"Is that?"
"I’m confused-- the only claim you make
is that people don’t care about history classes
but it’s vaguely worded;
is that your thesis?" 
And later in the body paragraphs-- more like
hide the body, because you murdered
the English language-- more ink.
"Do you mean "poignant?" "
"That is a run-on sentence AND
a sentence fragment both at once. How?" 
and of course:
"Citation needed."
"Cite this" 
"For the love of--
you have one footnote in this whole paper!" 
Go back and re-read it ,
this time for content again, 
this time focus on what is there, not 
what is missing.
"No, some states do have standardized
testing for history, 
I had it for ten years."
"What do you mean people in California 
don’t learn about civil rights?!?" 
"Actually not everyone discovers themselves
in high school, 
or learns what they want to stand for. "
"That is an opinion right there, don’t present it as fact. 
At least cite it." 
The paper is bleeding with edits now, 
gashed, scored, and annotated 
in two inch margins. 
On the final page
(note: no bibliography)
the harsh corrections stand out 
against the pale blue text copied 
from wikipedia.
"Wait, was that the thesis?"

Tuesday, February 25, 2014


March 25th, 1911
Triangle Shirtwaist factory
Eighth floor

We are tinder
one spark to set us all
Strike! Strike! Strike!
We stood and bled on the picket line
with hand lettered signs and no coats,
but we were tinder burst into flame
kept warm by our own words and
the hope that things would get better.
Now my union sisters and I
are trapped in this airless room
with a hundred needles skimming through white lawn.
Today is pay-day,
how much will we be fined for
speaking, stretching, looking out the window?
I want to say, “We are tinder!
Fight back, again, and maybe
this time,
this time we can win.”
But our union is finished,
and life is just as it was before:
locked doors, cut pay, dust in the air…
No. Not dust.


Monday, February 24, 2014

At the Elevator

At the Elevator,
9th floor
Lucia beat one fist
against the wire bound glass, screaming
her voice raw with a terror
as vicious as the flames
and as unrelenting.
You promised you would come back
she wanted to cry to the operator, so come back! 
The doors are locked,
for the love of God
come back for us!
But what left her mouth was

Through the press of bodies
she stretched out both shaking arms
wrapped in singed and tattered lawn,
searching. Mama had been beside her,
Where are you? She coughed, sucking in
There, she touched a familiar arm.
She clung to it,
as though the hand that had soothed fevers
could stop the flush in her cheeks now.

Fire-lit faces seemed all the same 
in the haze, but Lucia picked out one,
five feet off the ground. Her glass heart
Lucia kissed her sister's head, smoothed
her curls with one hand.
Madonna mia, not Rosaria, too.
She is so young,
we are all too young
to die here.
We are works in progress,
half-finished shirtwaists,
but she is fourteen.

Around her people screamed
Yiddish, and English
and the Italian of home,
one plea, one cry-
Please, God
I do not want to burn-
the words almost drowning out the roar 
of the flames.
The elevator did not come back,
did not come back
did not come back
The pile of women separated
by faith and language
held each other now.

They were dying here,
Protestant, Catholic and Jew.
No more differences among them, only 
fear, desperation, faith in a better place
beyond smoke and charred flesh.
No one would die alone, but all
in the arms of 
a mother, sister, daughter, cousin,
a friend. There was no room for strangers
breathing in each other's breath
breathing out the same plea:
I do not want to die,
in so many dialects.

Rosaria pressed her face against Lucia's shirtwaist
and Mama pulled them close to her breast
their hearts beating in time.
Prayers offered up in all those
shrill, hoarse voices, never sounded 
so holy as the flames
closed in.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Fire escapes

For Magpie 207

It was the little things that reminded Tessie. Roses, like the ones that had been in Antonietta's hat, her fine hat, that she'd loved so much. That pattern of floral shirtwaist that was all the rage last season, like the one little Kate wore. Fire escapes. Madonna mia, the fire escapes were the worst.

 She looked up at the redbrick building, the metal spidering its way from the second floor to the ninth. Signs hung from it, advertising bicycles, rooms for rent, most in English, but some in Italian. Laundry like flapping white birds twisted in the wind, falling like--Tessie closed her eyes, feeling heat on her cheeks, on her arms. Her skirt might have been on fire again, now, three months later, and she might have been watching the bodies, bundles of charred cloth, falling, falling, trailing flame.

"Muoversi lungo," someone said behind her, move along. Tessie stumbled to the side, leaning her head against the cool brick, letting the man with his cart of apples pass. Move along. That's what everyone expected her to do, move on, keep breathing. It was hard, when in each breath, she could smell smoke, hard when she woke up and looked over the table at breakfast at Zio Giancarlo, his eyes red still from weeping over his daughter. It was hard when every time she entered the factory, she flinched, her eyes darting away from the cloth to look at the windows, the elevators, the stairs. This factory did not lock its doors. They remembered.
And she would remember.
She would always remember, whenever she looked at a fire escape, whenever someone lit a cigarette, whenever she saw shirtwaists hanging from their lines, whenever the congregation at Mass sang "Abide with Me," and her voice cracked on the second line, whenever she saw Sarafino Maltese watching her come in from work, as he'd watched his sisters, sorrow in every line of his boyish face. She could hear even now, in this busy street, the roar of fire, the cries for help, Aiutami, Ratevet! She could see the elevator doors closing, the firemen raising too short ladders, the mangled remains of the fire escape, crushed from the fall and the weight of so many girls...

Tessie leaned a hand on the wall, using the other to make certain she had not wept, then pushed off. She would be late for work. Life had to go on, and on, and on, but she could never, would never, forget. Overhead, shirtwaists caught the sun, gleaming white like the robes of angels.

(For those of you wondering, this is about the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire, from 1911. I've been a bit obsessed with it lately.If you are interested, there are some great books: Leon Stein wrote the definitive history,  Joan Dash's We Shall Not Be Moved, and Margret Peterson Haddix's  historical fiction Uprising are both great. I've also written several poems about it, all tagged. Check them out if you want)

home alone at four AM

Home Alone at Four AM

Most nights, my cat sleeps
in the crook of my knee,
a lump of warmth that snores.
Tonight she stalks across my room
leaps up onto my pillow
and bolts away.
Abandoned first by brother, mother out of state
then Papa off to Italy,
now Catling, I close my eyes again
 pull my blanket closer
(there is no insulation in my walls or ceiling
to protect me from a San Francisco summer)
and shiver.
The world shivers,
single pane windows rattle
my mind goes white with panic.
I cry out, remember the drills,
Protect your head. Duck and cover. Breathe,
curl into a ball and slide down
between bed and wall
to huddle.
Wood thunders on wood,
something--something heavier than
trinkets and books
and the plastic trophies on shelves--
 crashes down,
glass splinters.
Catling mews from the kitchen,
and for too many heartbeats the world writhes.
Then, like letting out a breath,
the ground stills.
I pull myself out from under the bed,
See my books on the ground.
The white shelf is facedown
a slab of brown wood lies across my bed
and where my ceiling used to be
is darkness and  wisps
of San Francisco fog.