Breaker Boys – Lewis Wickes Hine

by Michael Burns

The newsies and the match girls, and the breakerboys in back.

They toiled away their little lives to keep their mamma’s happy.

Six days a week they leave their youth inside the warmth you purchased, and easy reads from newsie feeds that salted your accounts.


Yet they themselves all huddled close, in the dusty hells of industry.


Breakerboy oh breakerboy your tender fingers swell,

and cuts and red, and lung dust steals the aged years, at fifty-seven cents a day.

And your mother’s love, and your fathers curses at those that toil you son…

and the coal and iron police they beat the freedom from his limbs.


And the matchgirl coats to make the light that burns the coal that breaks you.


Her slender fingers lift the sticks and dips it just so right…


Match girl strike of 1888 — Unknown

and lucifers they steal her teeth and Phossy jaw reminds her.

That’s she ugly now and half gone mad,

no prince will he be coming,

for soon she will die because of it…

and lament it will be lacking.


And the newsie boy he sings the songs of dead angels to their passing,

of an empire’s march and long grey lines of the old and tattered, broken children.


Oh breakerboy, you Irish boy, you son from Ellis Island,

and matchgirl, oh you newsie… tell your tale, before its forgotten.


Newsie boy – Unknown

Of the children lost so long ago, and now…

it will continue.

And the needle turns on the burdening gyre,

and the filthy plot and plan,

their evil task to enthrall us all,

and for… our childhood’s end.


All images and writing are the copyright of Michael Burns