The productivity of New England’s textile mills depended on a steady supply of cotton that was coming from the South, from the blood and sweat of African American slaves. Many of the mill girls were abolitionists including the poet Lucy Larcom whose lines are woven into this poem. I don’t often write in form, but this poem required it. Although Francis Cabot Lowell is long dead it was important to me to address him directly.
Dear Francis Cabot Lowell
—founder of the first textile mill that transformed raw cotton into cloth under one roof increasing productivity and the demand for cotton.
How is it you don’t see all down the row,
blood bobbins blood bobbins all down the row?
I’ve heard fields of white bolls, each puff turned up
to the sun, are beautiful by the row.
But at what price this accursed fibre
that threads your looms, your looms all in a row?
Every day I feel that I am sinning
against the light to stay still in a row.
Turn those fields ten thousand times—the blood of
souls in bondage will thicken by the row.
Francis, you are the sin—not these cloven,
white perennials planted in a row.
They bleed I weave. I weave they bleed. Why can’t
you see—blood threads your looms all down the row?
Acknowledgement: originally published in AGNI