Contest Winner

Working People's Poetry Competition


Elegy for a Seamstress

In 1937, Aneta toiled fifty hours a week
at 25 cents an hour, half a man's wage.
Back and forth across the work tables,
she and her girlfriends shouted Lithuanian
until the bossman roared:
"Do you Lithwhacks understand 'quota?'"

When the company modernized,
Aneta bought the foot-powered Singer
she hunched over for years
for six scarce dollars, unlike some
rouge-heavy women
who made other arrangements.

In her basement she sewed repairs for pennies.
When her first daughter married,
Aneta designed a knee-length
ivory and organza lace gown
that younger sisters would share in turn,
each on insisting, "Mama raise the hem!"

Years later, granddaughters called her Bobute.
laughed at her immigrant rhymes
as she created sun dresses
the colors of zinnias and anemones,
When she tried to teach them, they refused
"No, Bubute you will always be here."

Now, the sewing factory is abandoned,
windows shattered by stones thrown by no-goods
who know nothing about sixteen-hour days,
the deafening whir of machines, the strike of a needle
through a finger not quick enough,
a day's wage lost for blood on a batch of aprons.

Each Labor Day, the granddaughters bring their children
like spools of thread to the foot of the stone.
After a prayer, they pull weeds,
picnic on blood soup and sausage with brown bread,
decide whose turn to house the Singer
no one knows how to use.

              Don Narkevic

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