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Collaborating Out Loud: Stories by Immigrant Garment Workers From Italy and To Italy

“Collaborare ad Alta Voce: Stories by Immigrant Garment Workers From Italy then and to Italy Now,”  was an evening of multi-media story-telling and discussion about Italian and Jewish immigrants working in NYC’s garment industry at the turn of the XX century and today’s immigrant workers in Tuscany’s fashion sector.

With Francesca Ciuffi, Maria Grazie Cotugno, Giulia Falzoi, Debora Florio, Alison Morse, Raza Muhammed, Claudio Tosi and Abbas Zaigham

Organized by Alison Morse

March 16 at 6:30 pm at Bio Fashion Lab, Via Alfonso La Marmora 25A 50121, Firenze

Audience at Bio Fashion Lab


Alison reading her poetry


Debora talking to the audience


Abbas, Raza and Francesca respond to an audience question after Abbas and Gaza told stories in Italian of their struggles for fair pay and decent work hours in the Tuscan leather factory where they work — a factory making products for an international luxury brand — and the support they receive from the 8X5 Movement in Prato. Francesca, from the 8X5 Movement, translated  their stories into English.

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My Poem at the Rutgers’ LEARN Event “From Triangle To Rana Plaza To Temp Workers: Building Worker Power”

On May 6th, I presented one of my poems, “Ready to Wear,” which was also translated into Bangla, as part of the Rutgers University Labor Education Action Research Network (LEARN) Event “From Triangle To Rana Plaza To Temp Workers: Building Worker Power,” an international virtual panel discussion with:

Moderator: Dina Siddiqi, Clinical Associate Professor, Global Liberal Studies, NYU

Alison Morse, Poet

Taslima Akhter, Photographer and President BGWS

Rupali Akhter, former Garment Worker at Rana Plaza, Secy for Health Support, BGWS

Reynalda Cruz, Worker Organizer New Labor Taslima Akhter, Photographer and President BGWS

Carmen Martino, Rutgers LSER, Dir, Occupational Training and Education Consortium

Abul Ahsan Rubel, Executive Coordinator of Ganosamhati Andolon (People’s Solidarity Movement) and Chief Coordinator of Protibesh Andolon (Ecological Movement)

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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.

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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










under the word








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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.






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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

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.

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