Interior, 1917

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.