Linda Scheller

The Miller’s Daughter

                                                                    Jane Addams (1860-1935)  
Before dawn, Chicago seethes
With bent figures gathering scraps.
Borrowed shoes and horse hooves 
Slog through manure and cabbage. 
The streets are lined with tenements 
Crowded with shivering families
Whose four-year-olds sit squinting
Over basting, picking out threads
For pennies a day, coughing, while
In the factories, older siblings
Stand with aching arms and backs,
At toil before gnashing machines. 
A girl screams, her fingers caught
And mangled. Another collapses.

The night whistle shrieks. The girls
Flock to dance halls, seeking husbands
But finding only misery in cheap whiskey
And brief pleasure. Their daughters
Take their place at the factory, and
Their sons play war in the alley.

As a child, I watched my father 
Stand at his millstone and lift a pinch, 
Rubbing it between his forefinger
And flattened thumb, discerning 
Flour from grain and grain from sand.
My own small thumb, soft with ease, 
Discerned nothing, yet night after night,
I dreamed everyone in the world was dead
But me, in a blacksmith’s shop, trying  
To make a wheel without iron or fire,
Without knowing how. I searched
In sleep for sticks to whittle for spokes,
A log to shave into staves, and wondered  
How one might bend without breaking,
How one might best strike a spark.