If I Could Just Do That Day Over: 1st Place – Elizabeth Walker, Eagle View Middle School

The past is all I have;
I have not any other hope,
Not my sister, not my family, nor my home.
The family and the home
We left behind in the village of our birth.
I long to be back in my old village in Ireland.
Mama and Papa laughing like when I was young,
And evenings bathed in warmth by a fire,
But I had to come.
Food was stretched every day,
And the faces of my beloved were thin and haunting.
They sent us on a ship to America,
So we could help them and ourselves.

Now only I am here.
If only…
If only safer;
If only stricter;
If only less
Or more.
If the push and pull evened out,
And if so many beaten paths connected right
So my sister could be here with me.

She rallied by my side,
Our feet dirty, red, and raw
Because we couldn’t afford the boots of a girl who did not need to work.
We had the bare feet of girls of who worked,
But not without the promise of a union.
Not without a promise of working together with our bosses,
Greedy bosses who couldn’t afford to lose more hired scabs
To discourage us and them from being us,
But we needn’t worried.
We were in the eye of the public.
After our hopes and expectations,
Our uprising of 20,000 ended too soon.

That uprising ended with empty promises pouring out of his mouth
Of shorter hours, longer wages, better conditions,
And without our needed union.
Their words could be a lie without our needed union.
The promises disappeared like the coins in our weekly wages.
“I want you to work an extra hour.”
“I need to charge you for the needles you used.”
The unspoken agreement was that nothing needed to be true,
And we were powerless.

We stayed at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.
A different workplace, and different floors.
Her high above; I far below.
Days were long; wages were not what was promised, girls were crammed into rooms too small.
We were sending every dollar we could to our families,
Every spoonful from our mouths was one into theirs.
It wasn’t enough.

The factory was tinder;
All it needed was a spark to become dangerous.
If they were watching closely
They would have seen a light,
Then a spark, then a blaze.
A wall of fire growing,
Doused with energetic oil
Instead of water.
If I were watching,
I would have seen my sister
Running for the exits.
I would have seen tongues of flame,
Dancing and rising from the floor.
I would have heard the panic of girls from different worlds.
But a scream is the same in all their languages.

Slow elevators,
Locked doors,
Blocked stairs,
Dysfunctional escapes,
All would add to the horror.
Smoke set in before sense,
And there was so much loss before salvation.
As I watched from below,
That salvation didn’t come to all.
Their ladders were too short,
And the top floors took their choice—suffocation or jumping for a ladder or net.
Like angels coming down from the sky with their skirts billowing,
Some would soon be angels flying up.

They exploited my sister and all of their workers.
They played their games because they could.
Now look what they have done?
They have lost their pawns, 146 of them.
They have lost their customers.
They have lost some of their building.
They lost my trust too,
And that of everyone else who lost a loved one.

If I could just do that day over,
March 25, 1911,
An entire day back,
And if I could do something
To stop her from leaving me,
From leaving our home,
From leaving for work,
From leaving a world like this,
I would.
If I could pull her away from the ledge of a building
Or hold her close and tug her away from the smoke
If only all of her pieces could come back together,
She would be my own flesh and blood sister again.

If only…


  • “Growth, Cities, and Immigration: Crash Course US History #25.” YouTube. Subbable. Web. 31 Dec. 2014.
  • Haddix, Margaret Peterson. Uprising. New York: Simon & Schuster for Young Readers, 2007. Print.
  • “The Progressive Era: Crash Course US History #27.” YouTube. Web. 31 Dec. 2014.
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