A journal of narrative writing.

Listen to Snip
read by Emily Bright

for the 146 victims of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, March 25, 1911 A factory, ninth floor. A bolted door protects the profits. The girls, mostly girls, are Russian Jews, Italian Catholics. They form English words with accents, walk home late to tenements. They sew miles daily. I cannot truly picture it. Even before the fire strikes, on a day of quotas-met, I’m gentling that close-packed room in my imagination. The air’s abuzz with pedals. Advice gets handed on with scissors. “How do you know when you’re in love?” a girl in braids is asking. [snip] “When your heart’s alight.” [snip snip] “I can hardly talk to him for shyness. Maybe when I see him Sunday...?” I could assign them names, call them Rosie, Anna. But wouldn’t that be stealing? Best to place your own face there, your own hands guiding cotton. Around you, girls who smooth their hair, who later must fix supper. There is no one who'd be capable of jumping when the fire skewers her thighs and ladders fail three stories short. When the fire escape collapses and the door won’t batter down. Forgive me, but I play this scene through muted. Even the words are burning. Girls are rushing for the windows on repeat repeat...Are you watching this repeat? The bolts, the hum, the long shifts that span daylight? Are you here in this factory (it could be anywhere), fashioning repeatedly the fashions of the season? Are you working secretly, your pay negotiable? Are you hoarding bits of song? So secretly, wrists aching? We would not have a list of names had there not been a fire. We do not have a list of names of girls in rooms, in rooms [repeat]. The room is piled high with cotton. Anything could make it spark.