Wednesday, March 31, 2010

On The Men's Room Wall

There is a quaint coffee shop here in Rochester, NY where I enjoy people watching, talking with friends, and appreciating the sometimes bad art hanging on the walls.  You know the type of place: Trendy and bohemian.  As if those two concepts aren't mutually exclusive. 

Occasionally, someone leaves some kind of "art" on the men's room wall.  Nothing vulgar, mind you, but usually small and somewhat odd. Once there was a black marker drawing of a crow on a tree branch. The management simply touched up the paint and the crow had flown.  

Last week, a new piece of men's room art appeared.  Also in black marker on the deep red wall was the outline of a face with the word "happy" stylized beside it.  I couldn't resist taking a photo with my cell phone. 

I was struck by the expression of the face next to that word.  Who was the artist?  What was his intent?  His background?  So many questions we can ask after a trip to the men's room! 

But the image stayed with me and I couldn't help but write about it. With recent stories about a particular internet provider confronting issues of censorship on the other side of the world, I couldn't help but read more into the image than probably exists.  I doubt that graffiti drawing will be there when I next visit, but the image remains on my cell phone.  

And in my imagination. 

Rick Baker
March 31, 2010 
Rochester, NY  

little red book 

on doors of toilets 
and ally walls they've 
graffitied your profile
in black and named you
"yellow peril" and "red". 

through chapters of history
your colors coursed as 
blood through fields.

dragooned, you bowed 
to masters near and far 

and now your masters near 
declare you leader and 
decider of your collective 

proclaim you happy 
behind walls built 
to protect you 
from your 

Poem © 2010 by R. Burnett Baker 
Photo © 2010 by R. Burnett Baker 
Photo of graffiti drawing taken March 2010 by R. Baker  in Java's coffee shop, Gibbs Street, Rochester, NY


  1. It is a compelling face. I wonder if the artist might see it and your poetry it inspired? Keep use posted, Rick.

  2. Willow, that would be quite interesting. Four years after Mao died, I lived in China ('80-'81). On my other blog I plan to write about my experiences there, but even with the relative "openness" one might see there now, I have no doubt that the undercurrents of repression still run, if not deep, then just below society's surface.

    What might another 30 years bring to the expression on that outlined face, I wonder?

  3. I love the phrase 'proclaim you happy'!

    The muse lurks in the oddest places.

  4. Interesting find -- glad you took that picture -- the poem is startling -- it seems like you captured the red, black & yellow emotion of that image --'I wonder'? "Undercurrents of repression run deep" --
    and when it surfaces -- watch out -- the pendulum does swing.
    Like Vicki ditto to "proclaim you happy" and "dragooned, you bowed to masters near and far"


  5. proclaim you happy
    wow did you ever capture what I saw in that art

  6. Wishing you a happy and blessed Easter xx Gypsy Purple

  7. great source of inspiration

  8. I love that illustration, Rick!

    How wonderful that you captured it and were able to share it with all of us!

    Have you ever gone back to this spot to see if it's still there or what took its place since?