Sweatshop 1928


Stranded in your suit, Ellis Island
prods you through a pen

where vowels escape
from a jutting jaw

that gets smashed flat
by your incomprehension

no lice or scurvy
just a foreign name

so they stamp you Jim
on your entry visa.

FAME 1928

The girl in tatters
      unfurls herself

over urchins posing
      on sweatshop steps.

The photographer
       from Time (an issue

about poverty
       on Lower East Side)

promises to show them
        but doesn’t come back.

Readers in armchairs
         on Manhattan Broadway

can’t help shouting
          That girl is cute !


The delivery boy
awash with cold air, is rolling
the frozen bales.

The baster’s thread
emerges from the chalk track
and dips back in

like the dolphin he saw
in Mid-Atlantic
on the passage over.

He tacks the suit
keeping things together
until the finisher

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unpicks his stitches. With hands
heavy as his twenty pound iron,
the presser steams the suit.

Soup and yiddish are strong as sisal
while outside, in Lower East Side
Americans say U boy and are very tall.
To them the baster is like his suit
a thread away
from going hungry or home.


The finisher’s stitch streaks
over the white line
chalked by the baster

A racehorse
neck to neck
with a Singer machine

her own life
a hang of raw
neither cut nor tacked

searching for a pattern.


The twenty pound iron
has steamed

his fungiform hand
with vagaries,

black and white notes
stroked by slim fingers,

rose poised
between index and thumb-

Friday night flower
for a woman

with cool skin
like shade in summer.


The wife stirs all four seasons
in the thick of her soup
(a pinch of primrose,

summer hayfields, Odessa autumn
snow on steppes) her workers taste onions,
potatoes, carrots.

The boss can count but can’t write
the officer who laughed
when he put a cross at immigration

should see him now.