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“Johnny!” by Katherine Ashe

From the play/libretto “Johnny!” by Katherine Ashe

“Johnny!”, a play entirely in verse, is about coal miners, Clarence Darrow, J.P. Morgan and the coal strike of 1902. It was commissioned from Ashe for the Celebration of American Labor 2000. Johnny Mitchell, charismatic president of the United Mine Workers, began work in the mines as Age 6 after his father was killed in a mine collapse.

Cheerful Miner’s Song

The rumble, the grumble, the tremble of the earth,
as she heaves with a groan an’ a sigh;
she breaks loose from the deep
with a cry, lettin’ go, spillin’ rock,
heavin’ coal, broken coal,
boulders drop, stone walls fold,
ceilings bursts with a roll
and a sigh and a tremble
that makes a man crumble.
But the earth,
she don’t die. She gives birth.

Miner’s Lullaby

(Johnny recalls a kindly miner, on his first day in the mine as a door boy, age 6)

Yuh ain’t got a lunch. Here, have a bit o’ mine.
An’ don’t yuh go t’ sleep, little nipper.
Many was the nipper fell asleep
An’ met his Maker
When the train come rollin’ through…
Smell o’ coal lulls yer sense
Stay awake, keep defense,
‘Cause the mine’s breath’ll swallow yuh live.
Close yer eyes an’ yer dead,
Keep that in yer head.
Stay awake, little nipper, stay awake.
‘N’ when y’ hear the whistle blow
Up above yuh can go.
One chance less the mine has t’ claim yuh.
Yer day’s work is done,
Go back like we come.
Stay awake, little nipper, stay awake.