The Factories

Margaret Widdemer
I have shut my little sister in from life and light
   (For a rose, for a ribbon, for a wreath across my hair),
I have made her restless feet still until the night,
   Locked from sweets of summer and from wild spring air;
I who ranged the meadowlands, free from sun to sun,
   Free to sing and pull the buds and watch the far wings fly,
I have bound my sister till her playing-time was done—
   Oh, my little sister, was it I? Was it I?
 
I have robbed my sister of her day of maidenhood
   (For a robe, for a feather, for a trinket’s restless spark),
Shut from Love till dusk shall fall, how shall she know good,
   How shall she go scatheless through the sin-lit dark?
I who could be innocent, I who could be gay,
   I who could have love and mirth before the light went by,
I have put my sister in her mating-time away—
   Sister, my young sister, was it I? Was it I?
 
I have robbed my sister of the lips against her breast,
   (For a coin, for the weaving of my children’s lace and lawn),
Feet that pace beside the loom, hands that cannot rest—
   How can she know motherhood, whose strength is gone?
I who took no heed of her, starved and labor-worn,
   I, against whose placid heart my sleepy gold-heads lie,
’Round my path they cry to me, little souls unborn—
   God of Life! Creator! It was I! It was I!

More by Margaret Widdemer

To a Young Girl at a Window

The Poor Old Soul plods down the street,
        Contented, and forgetting
How Youth was wild, and Spring was wild
        And how her life is setting;

And you lean out to watch her there,
        And pity, nor remember,
That Youth is hard, and Life is hard,
        And quiet is December. 

If You Should Tire of Loving Me

If you should tire of loving me
Some one of our far days,
Oh, never start to hide your heart
Or cover thought with praise.

For every word you would not say
Be sure my heart has heard,
So go from me all silently
Without a kiss or word;

For God must give you happiness…
And oh, it may befall
In listening long to Heaven-song
I may not care at all!

Old Wine

If I could lift
    My heart but high enough
    My heart could fill with love:

But ah, my heart
    Too still and heavy stays
    Too brimming with old days.
 

Related Poems

Ruin and Beauty

It's so quiet now the children have decided to stop 
being born. We raise our cups in an empty room.
In this light, the curtains are transparent as gauze. 
Through the open window we hear nothing-- 
no airplane, lawn mower, no siren
speeding its white pain through the city's traffic. 
There is no traffic. What remains is all that remains.

The brick school at the five points crosswalk 
is drenched in morning glory.
Its white flowers are trumpets 
festooning this coastal town. 
Will the eventual forest rise up 
and remember our footsteps? Already
seedlings erupt through cement, 
crabgrass heaves through cracked marble, 
already wolves come down from the hills 
to forage among us. We are like them now, 
just another species looking to the stars
and howling extinction.

They say the body accepts any kind of sorrow, 
that our ancestors lay down on their stomachs 
in school hallways, as children they lay down 
like matches waiting for a nuclear fire.

It wasn't supposed to end like this:
all ruin and beauty, vines waterfalling down
a century's architecture; it wasn't supposed to end
so quietly, without fanfare or fuss,

a man and woman collecting rain 
in old coffee tins. Darling, 
the wars have been forgotten.
These days our quarrels are only with ourselves. 
Tonight you sit on the edge of the bed loosening your shoes. 
The act is soundless, without future
weight. Should we name this failure? 
Should we wake to the regret at the end of time 
doing what people have always done 
and say it was not enough?