The Old Knickers
She wears threadbare floral prints.
She has a family back at the tenement
waiting for hugs and feed: hurly bulk of a husband,
perpetual scent of sweat, nails ringed with black.
Her hungry young are growling in the gulliver.
Had the shirtwaist factory floor an unlocked door,
she’d run out and home, into eager arms.
But the immigrants were not to be trusted. Still,
who’d ever have imagined that an oldwoodframefiretrap
full of sewing stations with frayed cords,
rooms packed to rafters with ready-to-wear,
could sear with such excitement
that doorknobs might melt?
Missus has now gone beyond the mullions, face blackened with soot,
once-long hair a smoldered bob and she sees the fire ladder
two floors shy of doing much good. Leaning out
over Greene Street her ears pop to silence and the sky turns crystal.
Her boys are off kicking cans in Miller’s field.
Firelicking closer, she’s urged to shuffle another inch.
She snatches up her children’s smiles, her parents’ final words,
her husband’s simple straightforwardness and urgent lovemaking.
She grabs old Mrs. Rosen’s hand, and together they rush down,
skirts billowing beneath them,
showing their old knickers to all the looky lous.