Written in Blood

| 23 Feb 2012 | 03:40

    March 25, 2011, is the 125th anniversary of the Triangle Factory Shirt Waist Fire, in which 146 garment workers, most of them immigrant European women died. Norma Ketzis Bernstock of Milford, Pa., wrote this poem to commemorate the event and mark the day. It is written in a strict form known as a sestina where end words are repeated in a set order. Bernstock is a member of the Upper Delaware Writers Collective and has been widely published. The title of the poem is taken from a quote from engineer, Mike Voudouris, from the New York City Chapter of the American Society of Safety Engineers, whose group was founded as a result of the fire. “All the safety rules are written in blood,” said Voudouris. March was Womens’ History Month. Written in Blood The Triangle Shirt Waist Fire, March 25, 1911 Immigrant women in New York worked as dressmakers, sewers of shirt waist blouses worn by fancy upper class women worlds apart from women who burned, who panicked and fled from a fire, from smoke and fear and imminent death. Businessmen weren’t thinking of death but of money, profit, volume and work, not sweatshop conditions or menacing fire, thought only of collars, cuffs basted to blouses, ignored cramped quarters, hot air that burned or safety concerns of factory women. In a high-rise factory with 500 women a Saturday workday ended in death from a spark in a bin that sizzled and burned cotton scraps, patterns, tables laden with work. Out-of-control flames consumed the blouses, the dress forms, fabric and women with flames. Panic ensued as they ran from the flames to elevators packed with terrified women, dressmakers, stitchers, fitters of blouses. More on top floors leaped to their deaths through nets ripped apart by workers who jumped ablaze from the burn. In just thirty minutes the factory burned, locked doors, no alarms, no warning of fire, ladders too short to save upper floor workers, cobblestones covered with bodies of women. A senseless inferno where so many died, seamstresses, sewers, makers of blouses. New York mourned these makers of blouses, mothers and daughters and sisters who burned. Owners Harris and Blanck, blamed for the deaths, excused in a trial from fault for the fire. But unions supported factory women, and laws were enacted for safety at work. Rules to save workers, makers of blouses, No more factory fires, no more dying of burns, or sacrificed women who forced change through their deaths. Norma Ketzis Bernstock