The dining hall for instance: open roof beams,
open screens, and yard upon yard
of clean swept hardwood flooring, it
might almost be a family camp.
And likewise in the sleeping room: expanse
of window, paneled wall, and the
warmth implied by sunwash, only softened
here by half-drawn shades. You know
the kind?—dark canvas on a roller, in my
memory the canvas is always green. What I
couldn’t have guessed, except for the caption:
the logic behind the double row of well-
made beds. I’d like just once to have seen
his face, the keeper of order who
thought of it first: a prostitute on either side
of each of those women demanding
the vote. And “Negro,” to make the point perfectly
clear: You thought
your manners and your decent shoes would
keep you safe? He couldn’t have known
how much we’d take the lesson to heart.
At the workhouse in Virginia they’d started
the feedings with rubber tubes. Not here.
Or not that we’ve been told. The men
all dying in trenches in France. A
single system, just as we’ve been
learning for these hundred years. Empty
of people, the space looks almost benign.
Copyright © 2020 by Linda Gregerson. This poem was co-commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and the New York Philharmonic as part of the Project 19 initiative and published in Poem-a-Day on March 14, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.