Even though she was ineligible for the Forward’s recent Triangle Fire Poetry Contest because she is a Forward contractor and is not a resident of the United States, The Sisterhood’s Elana Maryles Sztokman penned this poem in honor of the centennial of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, which killed 146 people — mostly young Jewish and Italian immigrant women — on March 25, 1911.
Have You Seen Me?
Have you seen me?
I came on the boat, you know, that one
With all the others.
I was with Sophia, remember?
Sophie, with the red hair
We stood next to each other as we docked.
And we found work together. Our sewing machines were across from each other.
It was a great job. A steady job. It paid the rent.
At the Triangle Shirtwaist factory.
We were lucky.
We didn’t talk much. No time. No lunch break. No money.
We were friends. She smiled at me over the machines. Sophie, with the red hair.
One Friday, she whispered, “Tomorrow is my birthday. I’m turning 25.”
I had $2.50 in my purse. After work I bought her a necklace for $1.50. Engraved “Sophie” on it. So people could see her. And know her name. She wore it every day and people saw. Sophie with the red hair.
When the fire started, people were running, shouting.
“I’m glad I saw you,” she said as she grabbed my hand.
We went to the fire escape, but it started to shake. Before we stepped on, it broke. They all fell.
We screamed, ran to the other side. Door was locked. “Sophie,” I said, crying. And then the flames came and engulfed us.
“Where’s Sophie?” He searched over the bodies lined up on the sidewalk. “Have you seen my Sophie?”
Can’t you see her? I wanted to say.
“This one is called Sophie,” the Officer called from the other end of the street. “See, it’s on her necklace.”
My necklace. My Sophie. He took his Sophie away and mourned.
More bodies. More searching. More crying. 140 funerals.
Not me. They never came for me. Six of us left alone. I was waiting for someone to see me.
“Have you seen my…”
But they did not. They all walked past me on the sidewalk. Lots of them.
They thought my body was a sight, unseen.
When it was all over, I gathered unto my people. The other women whose lives, and deaths, were not seen. We, the Unseen Women.
I see them. They see me.
Maybe next time you will see me too.
Read the poetry contest’s winning entry by Zackary Sholem Berger here.