To Make a Living
{An Umbrella Special Feature}

Ann E. Michael

is a poet, essayist, librettist and educator who lives in Eastern Pennsylvania and holds the position of Writing Coordinator at DeSales University.  She has an MFA in creative writing from Goddard College and is a rostered Artist-in-Education with the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. Her writing has appeared in numerous literary journals and in newspapers, family magazines, poetry anthologies, educational and academic publications, as well as on radio.

Ann's chapbook of poems, More than Shelter, is available from Spire Press.



—Back to Work Poetry Contents—

Lost in Translation (Triangle Shirt Factory)

Slim fingers nimble with the needle,
the presser foot: sewing was a language
she could master without an accent.
Fine work was not required but she had
her pride despite ten or twelve hours
at the factory, leaving and returning
home in darkness lit by gas lamps,
tenement windows.

Danger was expected; there was danger
in hunger, in the long crossing,
on the furtive streets, danger in the
English she learned haltingly while slouched
amid a host of other expendable girls,
needles and lint flying, chattering treadles,
rustle of aprons.

When the building caught like a twist
of cotton woven into lampwick and burst
upward with a flaming arm, it was only
one more example of how dangerous it is
to be foreign, locked away from understanding,
shut in with just the high window of
false hope.

How she hovered there, briefly worried
over the unfinished placket, her skirts
borne up by waves of heat before her plunge.
How her prayer went up in ashes, misinterpreted
because she spoke it in a humble tongue,
one the new world could not decipher, language
of work, and home.


Boss Mare

Rosie walks the old draft horse up to night pasture.
He doesn’t fuss or paw or tug the lead rope; he is eager
without impatience.

Some of the mares are less pliant, snap and pull, try
to stretch their way out of their halters. Rosie mutters
at the ornery ones,

yanks and cusses if they bridle too much, takes no guff.
I’ve seen her slam the back of her broad right hand square
below the jaw

of a mean-tempered bay, startle a big solid gelding out
of his determination to graze—when Rosie walks them,
they do walk.

She wears men’s workpants she buys cheap at off-price stores,
strides like a cowboy in her torn khaki jacket and workboots—
spits like one, too.

Jumps in her beat-up 1980 Chevy, guns it at idle so it
won’t cut out, spalls up dust in the drive as she leaves for
don’t know where;

she ought to live in a barn. I can just see her cribbing
her stall, bossing the other mares around: stay back,
do things my way.

Not that the horses mind. She wields the lead ropes,
she calls at the corral gate and most of them come running—
she’s boss mare.