Poet Barbra Frankel sent us this poem, inspired by Margaret Sanger’s work on the Lower East Side:

The Visit

Workers in a sweatshop in the Lower East Side (Lewis W. Hine collection, LC, Prints and Photographs Division, USZ62-51765)

this building breathes
exhales leather
through sewing machine oil
sweatshop hands on wheels
feet peddling time
patchouli and weed
living cheap on L.E.S.
fifty years later
after Mrs. Roosevelt and the war
when free love replaced
the birth control struggles
chants from Hare Krishna tonsures
on Avenue B temple
cafeterias, flower shops, and
haberdasheries all
iron gates now

the 1970 Gringo building 178
strong standing shed
held together with tin ceiling
glory patterns that echoed
the rat stampedes
between floors
2 building souls joined
on the bottom by past Yiddish
storefront theatricals
middle courtyard where wooden
outhouses shared fire escapes

twisted staircases
brought 4 stacked back building
sweatshops alive
replaced later by coded materials
that straightened the stairs
but not the heads
that recited Ginsberg, Brautigan
home to Penny Arcade

Icy winter day 1912
more traffic then on Stanton street
3 woman black coats
fur collars, cuffs, and wool
walk through narrow door
next to the Yiddish theatre
2 pair of shaky stairs up
through courtyard to the back
black small buttoned boots
and opaque black stockings

Margaret Sanger
no longer Hastings-on-Hudson wife now
birth control rebel
just before
No Masters No Gods
Ethel Byrne biological
and visionary sister
Fania Mindell Yiddish homegirl
who spoke the language

Sadie Sachs
eyes raised from her challah lunchpail
time sacrificed to hear
the Woman Rebel speak to the shop
“I hear over and over again of
your desperate efforts at
bringing yourself “around”
drinking various herb teas
taking drops of turpentine on sugar
steaming over a chamber
of boiling coffee or of turpentine water
rolling downstairs
and finally
inserting slippery elm sticks
or knitting needles
or shoe hooks into the uterus”*

Sadie Sachs rises
What can I do to prevent it?
Please tell me the secret
I’ll never breathe it to a soul

Sweat shops turned fashion tenements
I am here and know the secret
exposed it through herbal
punctured it with uterine implants
moon cycled with 30 pills
showed young and old their cervix
guided fingers cupping
rubber domes and caps
we now walk these same streets
and stairs in rebellion
On demand
and without

for Roxane and daughters everywhere
*Sanger, My fight for birth control Pg.49