Speech Against Stone


      I watch a man in the schoolyard
As he brushes a flat coat of institutional beige
Over a wall brilliant with childish graffiti,
                           Turning a fresh page,

      A surface the kids will respray
As soon as his back is turned. I suppose I should
Be thinking–as any upstanding taxpay-
                           ing citizen would–

      Of the money and man-hours spent
Covering up these phosphorescent hues
And adolescent cries of discontent;
                           But as he continues,

      I find myself divided:
The huge roller goes sweeping over the stone,
And I see in what he is doing a labor
                           Not unlike my own

      When I erase, letter by letter,
The words I've just written, in the hope that all
My scratching out may summon something better–
                           And besides, the wall

      Surely approves of this work,
For who can believe it would choose to say
FUCK THE WORLD or FAT ANTHONY'S A JERK
                           Or DMF JOSE?

      No, left to its own devices,
The wall would stand forever an unlettered book,
Prepared to meet eternity's inspection
                           With its own blank look.

      But that, of course, is what summons
The hidden children out of their hiding places–
That inviting blankness as the janitor finally covers
                           Up the last traces,

      Gathers together his painting
Gear and goes clattering off. No sooner gone
Than they return to renew the ancient complaint
                           Of speech against stone,

      Spelling out–misspelling, often–
The legends of the heart's lust for joy and violence
In waves that break upon but will not soften
                           The cliff's of obdurate silence.


Charles Martin, Starting From Sleep: New and Selected Poems, Overlook Press, 2002.