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Wednesday, March 27, 2024


by Jim Burns

Riots broke out in Philadelphia after Nativists burned down a Catholic church in May 1844. This lithograph shows the Know-nothings (in the top hats) clashing with the state militia.

Out of the vapors
of the past
I come
to sing you a song
of the poor and huddled masses
who have gathered at your gates.

I am the inscrutable Chinese,
one of 20,000 from my land
who for a dollar a day built your
grand railway of the golden spike.

I am the drunken Irishman,
the mobbed-up Italian,
the ignorant Pole
who sweated and died
to forge the iron and erect
your palaces of steel.

I am the Shylock Jew 
whose sweatshop toil
made the clothes on your back,
but whose financial acumen you blame
for relieving you of your earnings.

I am the the suspected spy,
the German who had to change my name
to protect me from your Klan
when first our countries fought.

I am the devious Japanese whose family
were reviled as turncoats
and dwelt in your internment camps
while in Europe I fought and died for you.

I am the wild-eyed son of Middle Eastern deserts
denied entry into your land 
and murdered in your cities
because of the evil of a few
who, like me, pray to Allah.

I am of those deemed not human at your southern border,
who braved deserts and human predators
to pick your crops, roof your homes,
tend your lawns,
do the jobs your sons won’t do.

Think of me as you will,
but Lady Liberty, 
raise your torch to me.
I am America,
I am you.

Jim Burns was born and raised in rural Indiana and received degrees from both Indiana State University and Indiana University. He then spent most of his working years as a librarian. A few years into his retirement he turned to a decades old interest in writing, especially poetry, and in the last two years has been fortunate enough to have published 18 poems and two short pieces of nonfiction online, in print or both. He lives with wife and dog in Jacksonville, Florida.