Rainbow-born, she is a smile
splitting open the serious mask
city fathers pin to the face of sunrise.
“Hoodlums” and “vandals” are just a few
of the names city fathers call her priests—
but the devout shrug off labels
and identify themselves only with neon
tags that make the skyline undulate
like seaweed underwater.
The city fathers order erasure
of glow-in-the-dark green bombs
that disrupt orderly façades
of office buildings—natural
beauty marks on manmade features.
Kaleidoscopic sigils of her faithful
draw up downturned gazes of drudges
as they trudge from one gray duty to the next.
The city fathers deny her presence
in each day’s new announcements
yet every evening she returns
when her acolytes slink out to splash
her colors on government edifices
and cramped alleyways, giant billboards
and train cars ceaselessly circling town hall.
If you crack your window after midnight
you might hear the rattle of a can shaken in praise
followed by spitting and hissing
as her newest miracle manifests.
Noel Sloboda has published two poetry collections, six chapbooks, and hundreds of poems in journals and magazines. He teaches at Penn State York.
Author’s comments: A reach that spans all space and time seems to me like a pretty good definition of divinity. Every city I have ever visited has featured graffiti of some kind. It is sometimes big, sometimes small, sometimes loud, sometimes muted. Yet graffiti is everywhere if you look closely enough. I suspect it has always been this way, even though spray paint is a relatively recent invention! (A great many museums feature artifacts bearing various personal marks and embellishments.)
In recent years, I have read news stories about crackdowns on graffiti. On the one hand, I see how the activity can be disrespectful, even harmful. In my poem, though, I wanted to celebrate the spirit of those who make art and express themselves where they are not expected to do so. This led me to set up an adversarial relationship between an impersonal authority and those rebels who insist on putting their stamp upon the world.
Editor’s Notes: For graffiti art to complement the poem, I chose a mural with a speculative theme—the headlining art for the article, “The People’s Art: 10 of the Most Beautiful Graffiti Murals in the World” by Kendra Brea Cooper. https://list.ly/list/akV-the-peoples-art-10-of-the-most-beautiful-graffiti-murals-in-the-world