tewksbury almshouse hearings

It is paupers' skins that are tanned now
for the slippers of the aristocrats.

— Ben Butler

From the back of the balcony
in the crowded room
I heard Ben Butler say it,
tell the world right out what we didn't know we knew, but knew.
How we worried our souls
awakened too soon would get lost,
tired, confused.
Oh, we knew
these pale shells of our spirits
dropped in the ground
could be stolen for their skin, no matter hairy or hairless,
scarred or tattooed.
We heard shovels digging open
closed wooden beds at night,
we saw wagons
on the road to the city piled high.
I heard him,
I heard Ben Butler say it.
He took our bald rumor,
put numbers and words on what we knew.
He saw
in the shoestore window
tanned, cut, sewed and glued
could have been Tom or Beatrice,
Sadie's baby or even Jimmie.
What do they think?

Do they think we have no souls?

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