Farbende by Ed Frankel

The iron treadles rock and doven
in the flatiron shadows, pressed air and piece work.
Hungry hands move like birds.
Every week the girl who makes the least gets fired.

You march arm and arm with women from the factory,
a banner draped across your chest and you sing.
Farbende I used to call you—the fire that dances.

I’d like to turn the foot treadles backwards,
unwind those hours in the factory, unravel
all the dresses, the shirtwaists, sleeves and collars
until all the colored threads and all the hours
pile up around you, as tall as this high-rise
of iron and glass, dovecotes and warrens,

this view out a window that doesn’t open,
over the Schuylkill River,
named for a people no one remembers.
A quarter moon hangs in the clouds,
a necklace of forgetting,
white pearls of morning and the black pearls of sleep
slipping off the necklace into the river’s shadows.

In your translucent reflection, a girl with red hair
throws marbles under the hooves of the horses.
when the police move in to break up the parade.
She runs hand in hand with the Italian girl
In the black headscarf who worked next to her.

A girl in a grey dress and plum colored stockings
dances with a slender boy with glasses.
On the victrola Sophie Tucker sings, “I ain’t had no lovin’
since January, February, Forth of July.”
The girl pokes the boy in the ribs and they laugh.
The boy whispers in her ear in broken English
but you can’t make out what he is saying.
They disappear down the wrong end of a telescope,
smaller and smaller.

You press your ear and then your face against the cold glass.
You are transparent, almost invisible,
faceless as the stars.

About the Author:

Ed Frankel divides his time between Northern California and Los Angeles where he teaches for the UCLA Writing Programs and Antioch Los Angeles B.A. and MFA programs. His recent poetry has appeared in Fugue, The Dogwood Journal of Poetry and Prose, Nimrod, Pedestal and others. His chapbook, When The Catfish are in Bloom: Requiem For John Fahey was published in Fall 2008 by Finishing Line Press. His Chapbook People Of The Air will be published by New American Press in January 2009. He was nominated for the Pushcart Best of the Small Presses Prize 2006. His essay “In the Lap of the Angel of History: A Memoir,” is included in Cesar Chavez and the Farmworker Movement, 1962-1993. Sal Si Puede Press. Ed can be contacted at his website,