Open post

On the Last Night in Dhaka

published in Jaggery
part of The Price of Our Clothes

 

After a morning highway ride

to Savar, passing roadside piles

of white bags stuffed

with broadcloth pockets,

gingham shirt fronts,

denim lapels—tons

of cotton remains

from factories—

 

after riding past smokestacks

rising through dirt,

spewing soot

from buried kilns

baking handmade bricks,

 

after watching, in Savar,

Rana Plaza survivors

push pant legs through

sewing machines

loud as machine guns,

 

after reaching, by afternoon,

Dhaka’s public cemetery,

to see how microbes

have decomposed

the unidentified

Rana Plaza dead,

 

after sunset dims my view

of Dhaka’s women garment workers

to silhouettes climbing

on fire escapes, like worker ants,

from one factory floor

to another,

 

after sitting in starless night

on a mattress in a muddy yard

opposite Pamina, who says:

I have no way out

of the garment industry,

I am confined

with the betterment of my children,

 

I lie in my hotel bed,

awake to American techno-pop,

jack-hammered from

a nearby disco.

 

Red, white, blue, flash

into the night with every beat.

Soldiers at the hotel entrance

guard guests—potential targets

for handmade bombs.

 

After two weeks in Bangladesh,

I long for this country’s

five a.m. call to prayer,

my own country’s music

to stop.

Open post

The Light Under, A Conversation with “Dibaxu (Under)” by Juan Gelman

first published in Poetry City, U.S.A.
reprinted in The News, Mexico

 

Under the metal wing

of another plane leaving home

 

a field of clouds, moisture

no one can hold

 

under the clouds

a white page of snow

 

under the snow

roofs like book covers

splayed open

under the roofs

our cranial bones

 

under bone

our songs remembering

life after leaving:

 

in the city

we walked in rags

wrapped around our feet

 

hunger held us;

we did well

if we had potatoes

 

new laws took

our fathers’ work

then took our fathers

 

they aimed at our elders’ hearts

for “friendship

with God’s enemies”

 

led us to clothed bones

in barrels; yes, we said

these are our sons, disappeared.

 

Certain of always losing

we stand on the Strong Cliff

ready to strike.

 

Our tongues tremble

with this exile.

 

Yet, under our songs of the separated

 

our roots sing through soil

to other root clusters

feeding trunks, branches

multi-mouthed, green-voiced

leaves of every shape and language

 

 

under the leaves, the word

light/

luz/

luce/

lumière/

licht/

свет/

نور/

אור

 

under the word

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Open post

The Great Lakes

published in Poetry City, U.S.A.
made into a song by composer Sarah Miller

 

 

On the scan of her after-stroke brain, we see her alien graymatterscape

darkened by pools of dead neurons we dub The Great Lakes of Dementia:

 

Lake Nonsense, Lake Lost Way, Lake Can’t Be Left Alone,

Lake Scrambled Space and Time, Lake Black Hole.

 

She greets the plumber, sock on one hand, pants at her ankles, oh, the turmoil

in Ukraine. From her chair into walls she can’t see, she bolts,

 

rebounds, shuffles over her big toes on the way to her piano.

The Chopin etude she first learned more than sixty years ago

 

clangs atonal until one arpeggio, two, three, harmonize past her plaques and tangles,

hammer a chain of heat through the piano’s lacquered burls, wires, ivory keys,

 

the yolk-yellow finches perched like grace notes on the feeder,

our helpless hands in our laps as we listen, submerged with her

 

in Lake Pleaseanneal, Lake Inexpress, Lake Sing Hilarity, Lake Nothing, Lake Boundless.

 

 

 

 

 

Open post

Dream Rematerialized in Bangladesh

published in Water~Stone Review
part of The Price of Our Clothes

 

Red threads protrude
from the tips of my fingers,
weaving loom warp
attached to the clucking tongue
of my mother. She says,
why are you wearing that shmattah?
Her words steer my hands
to the nearest fashion outlet,
rifle through rack after rack
for the cheapest blouses, skirts
and trousers to make me
more slender, more
modern professional, more
American shikse, less
frum, less
poor, potato-y
Jewish immigrant
Grandma.

Invisible weft
weaves over
and under this warp,
threads of the years
my grandma and great aunts
made by hand
in garment factories,
work to trampoline
my mother and me
to more.

Crimson threads
shoot through the skin
of my fingertips, fan out
like scarlet highways
past my American horizon,
touch down in Dhaka
as running stitches
so red, they vibrate
a green kameez,
its label, Made in Bangladesh,
We Care, promises
artisans paid enough.

To meet Khadija, twenty,
factory shirtmaker since fourteen,
I wear my green kameez
embroidered with threads
as red as gashes
marking the palms
of women and men
Khadija knew
at Lifestyle, a factory
contracting knifers to cut
deep through the hands
of workers who, together,
marched Dhaka streets
roaring for human workday
goals and wages. Change.

Khadija tells the translator
to ask me: why are you here?
I say: I come from a family
of garment workers.
A century ago, the same
things happened in my country.
Kadija says: Bandhu, Friend.
Bangla and English
hum through the fabric
under my skin.

Open post

Activist Means

published in Fashion Revolution Fanzine #001: Money, Fashion, Power
part of The Price of Our Clothes

 

1.

In this poem, ACTIVIST means Kalpona Akter, not

militant, tree hugger, synonyms on Thesaurus.com.

2.

ACTIVIST means Kalpona, Bangladesh schoolgirl,

family breadwinner, age twelve.

3.

ACTIVIST means Kalpona, GARMENT WORKER,

awake, on her feet in a tiny, narrow clothing factory

twenty-three days straight, cutting cloth

into trouser belt loops, showering in the shared bathroom,

drinking tap water laced with toxins, tamarind cheeks burning

from supervisors’ slaps. Kalpona, afraid to say: No.

No to six dollars a month, four hundred fifty hours of work.

No to the one building exit barred by stacks of pants—

locked. No to colleagues kicked, necks pressed hard

by supervisors. No to private overtime shifts under managers

thrusting like needles into female employees’ fabric. No voice

until  “strike” from the mouths of her co-workers pushed

Kalpona to the front line, to defeat’s shadow, to the flint

of a union class, spark for her first luminous NO

and YES to talk between supervisors and colleagues.

Her voice so bright she was fired and blacklisted from the industry.

4.

ACTIVIST means Kalpona, VOICE, who flies from Bangladesh

to the New Jersey office tower of Children’s Place—

international retail brand of onesies, kids’ jeans,

boys’ shirts—to bring the C.E.O a message:

please give more than one hundred forty dollars

to families of garment workers, who, while sewing

Children’s Place clothing in Bangladesh’s

Rana Plaza office tower, were maimed or killed

when the building collapsed. Know

that Children’s Place’s demand for the cheapest

clothes on the quickest deadlines

created Rana Plaza.

5.

ACTIVIST does not mean Garment Industry Destroyer,

name given Kalpona by Bangladesh garment factory owners—

many of whom sit in Bangladesh’s Parliament.

The Ministry of Commerce tells the New York Times

the garment industry fixed itself after Rana Plaza.

Kalpona says: WE STILL LAG BEHIND,

points to unions controlled by factory owners,

worker’s unions forbidden to speak to workers.

6.

In this poem, ACTIVIST means Kalpona Akter, but

I AM A WOMAN, HUMAN, is what Kalpona says.

Her bicycle leans against the wall

by her office desk. Her wide smile embraces me.

Open post

Easy For Me

published in Fashion Revolution Fanzine #001: Money, Fashion, Power
part of The Price of Our Clothes

 

To take
my brown Gap
corduroys, cheap,
made in Bangladesh,
knees faded,
to Goodwill where
someone will throw
them into a bin
to sell to a textile
recycling center

where, deemed
better than a rag
or landfill garbage,
my corduroys
will top off a ton
of Ralph Lauren,
Old Navy,
countless other
American brand
frayed shirts,
overstretched
pullovers, worn-
thin dresses,
will sail to Cameroon

to become part
of a one hundred pound
bale worth
a month of meals
for five in Cameroon.
My corduroys will be resold
to a customer in the capital
for much less
than a hand-batiked
cotton Kabba,
or any other apparel
made by a Cameroonian,
will keep this African
country’s own
garment makers
unemployed.
Easy.

Open post

Yellow Pants

part of  The Price of Our Clothes

 

My favorite pants, less than an ounce of pale mango cotton,
elastic banded, pocketless, perfect with any top,

could have been seamed by the millions in factories run by:
why are there only eighty, like yesterday, when today’s target is one hundred twenty;

or could have been meadow of mustard bloom yellow trousers
made with sums gleaned from years of labor each worker lost when nine floors fell.

But my favorite pants have no unreachable quota to meet, require no less-than-living-wage,
no rolling floors, pillars and beams crushing his head, his hand, her legs, her back.

Makers of these yellow pants sew
on machines bought with permanent injuries,

open windows and doors that let in the sun
on eight-hour days with breaks, know

any mistake is correctable by workers who own
their own factory, make yellow leggings

like pencils with wings that write New Life
over concrete, twisted metal, bone.

 

—for the survivors of Rana Plaza who own and work in the New Life garment factory,
Savar, Bangladesh, and made my yellow pants.