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On the Last Night in Dhaka, Bangladesh

by Alison Morse

On April 24th, 2013, Rana Plaza, a building in Savar, Bangladesh, that housed five garment factories, collapsed, killing between 1,134 and 1,175 garment workers who made clothes for the biggest international brands in the world. In 2015, I travelled to Dhaka Division to interview survivors of Rana Plaza, garment workers, and activists who work on their behalf.

After a morning highway ride
to Savar, passing roadside piles
of white bags stuffed
with broadcloth pockets,
gingham shirt fronts,
denim lapels—tons
of cotton remains
from factories—

after riding past smokestacks
rising through dirt,
spewing soot
from buried kilns
baking handmade bricks,

after watching, in Savar,
Rana Plaza survivors
push pant legs through
sewing machines
loud as machine guns,

after reaching, by afternoon,
Dhaka’s public cemetery,
to see how microbes
have decomposed
the unidentified
Rana Plaza dead,

after sunset dims my view
of Dhaka’s women garment workers
to silhouettes climbing
on fire escapes, like worker ants,
from one factory floor
to another,

after sitting in starless night
on a mattress in a muddy yard
listening to Pamina say:
I have no way out
of the garment industry,
I am confined
with the betterment of my children,

I lie in my hotel bed,
awake to American techno-pop,
jack-hammered from
a nearby disco.

Red, white, blue, flash
into the night with every beat.
Soldiers at the hotel entrance
guard guests who might be targets
for handmade bombs.

After two weeks in Bangladesh,
I long for this country’s
five a.m. call to prayer,
my own country’s music
to stop.

unnamedAlison Morse‘s poems and prose have been published widely in literary journals, magazines and anthologies. She also authored If You Wave A Chicken Over Your Head (Red Bird Chapbooks), a flash fiction collection. Alison, a descendant NYC garment workers, is currently working on a multi-media project about the garment industry that makes connections between the Triangle Shirtwaist fire (NYC, 1911) and the Rana Plaza collapse (Savar, 2013). For more information, see the blog.