Front Street 1918

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Women – complained about the
cold – people crammed inside
one room, sleeping on floors
within tenements, or two room
flats on Front Street.

But this – is America
where dreams come true.

Women – complained about
noise outside – in the middle
of the night. Men gathering
outside, in the middle of the
night – around a pail of fire –
like bums.

No one listened to the women.

Men gathering inside of of
saloons, in the back room
drinking home made wine, playing
craps, and smoking old stogies.

Women complaining when they
visited the butchers shop –
about the price of meat, and
eggs costing more, brown sugar
instead of white.

No one listened. Women were
immigrants, can’t write, or
read. . .

Men complained those who
delivered coal – then the
strike began and schools closed,
theaters – and half the workers
at the plant, out of work from
a lack of heat.

No one listened to the men.

Near the Mohawk River streets
would flood after a hard rain,
or thawing of winter, and boats
were rowed up and down the street
collecting victims from a second
floor.

Immigrants gathered where customs
were like home, a mountain village
against open fields of wheat: women
shopped, bargained for the best
price as pushcarts rolled through
village streets. But women wore
a golden cross attached to their
sweater – it was a Sicilian way.

Men never noticed.

In 1918 war injured the dreams of
immigrants, no more peaceful streets,
everyone was touched – even all
the children – when would it end?

On Front Street, near the Locomotive
Plant, and the big plant – known
to light the world, it was the
industrial revolution – but war took
the men while women worked with
children at their side.

Women complained about the war.

Men came home in baskets. Immigrants
were clueless about their relatives
overseas.

No one listened.

War heroes returned, bringing some
kind of sickness, some kind of virus,
and the sickness crept into a town
taking more lives than war. . .

No one listened as men and women
ached with pain.

America – where people gather under
lamp posts in a winter storm, and
dreamed of a better life.

Remembering wheat fields in the mountains
and the owner of the land – you had to
listen – immigrants remember – they
understood.

Now, white carriages moved
slowly down cobblestone streets,
for every woman, man, and child to
see – inside, wrapped in white sheets
lay the dead, one on top of one.

And on the door of the dead a black
wreath hung, and a sign for those
sick inside, for others to keep away.

Men and women talked about the day
they cheered when paper boys ran up
and down a city street, yelling,
“The war is over, the war is over.”
Church bells rang.

But no one knew another
killer would be ravaging the streets.

Some one understood – long before
the illness struck – understood people
needed to compromise and provide health
and education.

But no one listened.

Not until war and sickness killed –
enough to compromise. No one had to
read or write – in plain sight was
all it took to know, and understand.

Nancy Duci Denofio 1/11/11

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