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An exhibit of art and poetry

Benicia Public Library, 150 L St. in Benicia

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his painting of the disastrous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire by Jan Cook (entitled “Beyond The Triangle”) and the accompanying poem by Mary Rudge (“This News”) are part of an exhibit open all through the month of July at the Benicia Library, free to the public. The library will also host a closing reading by the poets and artists on July 28, 7-9 p.m. The show features collaborative work by artists and poets using news stories chosen as their subject.

“Beyond The Triangle.” The women were betrayed for profit. Painting by Jan Cook.

This News

Poem by Mary Rudge

Editor’s note: Mary Rudge and Jan Cook created a tribute to the victims of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City, a disaster of legendary horror. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the fire that killed 146 people on March 25, 1911, and helped to galvanize the U.S. labor movement. The victims were mostly young immigrant women, many of whom jumped to their death to escape the flames. Days after the fire, 100,000 mourners marched in a funeral procession while another 250,000 lined the route. Their grief built support for the right of garment workers to unionize.
[dropcap]A[/dropcap]re words terrible enough, strong enough to tell this — women in a factory on fire, who burned, or jumped from windows to fall 9 stories and die — the poet worked, though words seemed as blood clots, as tears, among things that were beautiful in the room, paintings, photographs, other art and poems,  the heads and hands of people — words fell from her mind as the women fell, screaming, the women who sewed the same pattern, over and over 10 hours  a day, 7 days a week, 12 cents an hour, whose safety was counted as nothing — 146 died, their bodies were counted — even after 100 years, they haunt in news — the burning skin of live bodies on fire, sizzle of fat, flesh, the ache in hands that could not hold longer to the edge of a window, the agony of fear in the falling, the instant white light of blank emptiness when the brain spills from the skull’s crack, the breaking of spine and fingers, the inter-tangled  neural system, blood vessels, sinew, spit open, girls and women who were once solid forms in a room humming with their industry,  warm with their breath, with feelings and neurons throbbing and tingling —women who shared  bread they needed with others in need, the girl with beads and ribbons braided into her hair, the woman who sang songs she knew from another place to her children, the one others counted on for their happiness, who made things beautiful — for these, the poet tried to gather together words and letters that were scattered like separate bones — for women who had sold parts of their lives for passage to America — women with years of sweat and tears in the thousands of stitches they made for so few coins — the one who was 13 years old —women who had come from persecution and repression, to here and hope — those who hung from window sills by their  fingertips — girls who gave their virginity to get a job — women who slept on cardboard — women with  7 children, 12 children — the one who supported a sick mother and little sisters — the one who died with the unborn child within her — the ones who held hands and fell through space together — the one who kissed her and pushed her out the window 9 stories up, then jumped, hair on fire, through the air — the many who fell into the firemen’s nets then onto the sidewalk as others fell upon them and the nets broke,  their fall broke through concrete — they burned and outrage changed things, fire sprinklers spring out overhead like lotus, opening — they died for unlocked doors and safe elevators and fire escapes, for unions and working conditions to become humane — the artist wants to show fair labor laws, workers’ rights.  justice — the poet tries again to shape words into action and truth — artists and poets together, what  will our work do — and you, too, what more can we do with this news?