Denis Kearney: Champion of Labor

A new poem by André Naffis-Sahely.

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“I am
an ungrammatical man,
but I thank God for a tongue
and a good pair of lungs.

I stand before you 
in this Cradle of Liberty
to stir you out of your lethargy.
Look at your Congress,

all lawyers and bankers.
Our leaders have failed us and now
it is time for good, honest workingmen
to rid us of these gophers and vampires.

Chinamen only dine on rats
and rice. Do you want leprosy here?
If the Constitution were written on a steak
a hungry man would gobble it up.

Beware of land pirates
and moneyed powers. I will not
read any further from the Book of God.
And whatever else happens, the Chinese must go!”

This poem is based on speeches given by the racist demagogue Denis Kearney (1847-1907) during his 1878 speaking tour of the United States as the leader of the Workingmen’s Party of California, which campaigned against immigrants from Asia.

André Naffis-Sahely’s debut collection, The Promised Land: Poems from Itinerant Life (Penguin) has just been published

This article appears in the 24 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Sunni vs Shia