When Walls Speak: Poetry Inspired by Raleigh Murals

Our town boasts dozens of murals that inspire an emotional response. Here, a writer captures the feelings with ekphrastic poetry.
by Leah Finch | photography by Bryan Regan

Raleigh boasts dozens of murals that invite introspection on a morning commute or coffee run. These images inspired Leah Finch to write a collection of ekphrastic poetry — words in response to what she’d seen — on walks around town.

Louise “Ouizi” Jones, SUMMER’S WHERE YOU’LL FIND ME, 2110 Blue Ridge Road

The Offering

Let us go down to the fields together.
The breeze brushes our 
faces in a soft kiss.  

Our time-worn legs  
part the sea of wildflowers, 
like an act of God.  

Skirts bundled in hands. 
Let us behold and gather.  
Behold and gather. 

You clip yours 
and I’ll clip mine. 
It’s freeing,  
this being and beholding. 

We’ll gather glory and wonder. 
The yield of sun and soil, 
water and seed 
plus time. 

An offering for our empty vessel.

Scott Nurkin, SHAW’S 150TH ANNIVERSARY, 720 Blount Street

For Posterity’s Sake

On the wings of my furrowed brow,  
Justice will fly. 
For when you call us to account, 
we are not found wanting. 

But Wanting,  
we have met her acquaintance. 
Only the brave give Wanting a voice.  

And we are brave. 
We daren’t falter at what is,  
But call forth what should be.  
For our bones, they testify. 

And these dry bones, 
they will live. 
For the sun must shine,  
the bird must fly, 
the deer must leap, 
and I must demand my birthright for our sake. 

I can’t look to the seen things  
with any weight. 
The landscape of “what is”  
has no bearing on me.  

For isn’t there 
empty before full,  
seed before tree, 
rain before rainbow, 
dark before light?  

I must see the unseen, 
for posterity’s sake.

Marlon Ferguson, BUTTERFLIES, 133 E. Hargett Street

On the Wings of a Butterfly

Fly me on the wings of a butterfly.
Miles and miles 
to make my home here 
with you. 

For like the Israelites, 
I’ve heard a rumor 
of a promised land. 

And I yearn for milk and honey.  

So I shed my cocoon, 
unfurl my wings, 
and fly. 

Soaring on the breath  
of my ancestors  
my body points me towards 
that eternal haven. 

The journey, 
almost impassable.  
The necessity,  

I look back  
to the generation behind, 
to the generation ahead. 

To break a link  
In this great 
eternal chain. 

So I fly 
on history and hope.  
For what other option 
is one given?  

If it’s not given unto me, 
to be counted among the generation
that sees their hope realized, 
I was given two wings. 

These wings. 
I call them to action, 
I will soar. 

For like the Israelites, 
I’ve heard a rumor 
of a promised land. 

Towards milk and honey, 
I must fly.

Steven Powers, ANN & ALLEN IVERSON, 409 W. Martin Street

This Moment, Holy

Cover me under a blanket of cornrows  
And I’ll hide under the shadow of your wing. 

Crown me with glory  
And I’ll submit to bestowed dignity.  

Sit in this familiar, sacred space, 
And I’ll receive your tenderness. 

Move your nimble, assertive fingers  
And I’ll canvas your artisanship.

Purse your lips, set your gaze  
And I’ll reflect your determination. 

Manifest from memory, what you’ve been taught 
And I’ll link arms with generations. 

This moment, holy.

Taylor White, ABSTRACTED MOTION, 410 S. Salisbury Street 

A Bulwark for Your Soul  

Would you lean into me when your yoke is heavy?  
I know we’re both shouldering burdens we can hardly bear,  
but I can lighten your load. 

See, love, 
it believes all things, 
it hopes all things.  

My love, 
don’t hide 
your face from me. 

Blanket me with your concerns, 
baptize me with your tears, 
bury me under your pain. 

Take steps of trust  
towards me,  
and find me willing. 

I am willing, 
I am waiting, 
to see you. 

Disarm yourself,  
and find me here, 
a bulwark for your soul.

Soniya Hardy, UNTITLED, 237 S. Wilmington Street

All the Colors of the Rainbow

How did you see me?  
Was I colorful, dynamic, more than one thing?  
Or was I hemmed in on all sides?  
Made flat and one-dimensional.  
To slide into the faulty narrative, you boxed me into?  

Tell me. 
Why did you insist on making me a caricature?  
Did it make you feel safe?  

Do you not feel terror in your forged role of author,  
deciding what story you’ll write over me?  
Do you not feel marred by deception,  
when you’ve robbed me of the rest of my “I ams,”
when you insist on seeing just one?  

I am and I am Black. 

Black: The absorption of all colors, all light. 
I absorb all colors, all light, in order to reflect back what you see.  

I am a prism-keeper. 
Cut me open. 
You’ll only disclose the full-color spectrum hidden inside. 

I am a lighthouse. 
My skin absorbs all light. 
In my body, I house and carry light everywhere I go.
Cut me open. 
The light will shine on you. 

But must it be so costly, for us both to be seen?  

If you forgo your role of author, 
I’ll lower my finger as accuser. 

Free from our burdens, 
we’ll dance.  
All this light, passing back and forth between us. 

And won’t we, together, be marvelous?  
We, the reflector and keeper of all the colors of the rainbow.

Mayanthi Jayawardena/Serendib Creative, JUST FOR KICKS, Fayetteville Street 

We’re Going Places 

You and me, we’re going places. 
You have your laughter; I have my compassion.
You have your resilience; I have my curiosity. 
You have your candor; I have my bravery. 

You’re going places.  

Will I be going too?
Will I bear witness 
to the miracle of you? 
You now. You then.  

Will you behold what I become?  

When elements of past,  
present, and mystery,  
collide to birth my future.  
Will you be there to hear my new name?  

You and me, we’re going places. 
And now, 
we run ahead, 
in tandem, 
into the mystery.

Casey O’Connell, LOVE IS LOVE, 237 S. Wilmington Street

With Kisses of Empathy

Shower me with kisses of empathy. 
Become weary under my burden  
before you weary me with your words. 

Let a thousand fields of flowers  
bear witness 
to your bearing witness to me. 

Countless footprints  
of the miles, 
you’ve walked in my shoes. 

These shoes.  
yet, the same. 

Daily, you sit down  
to the table of majority culture,  
celebrated union, and plenty. 

Daily, I’m confronted with sexual identity.

Constantly affirmed,  
are your nature and preference 
and I’m glad!  

I join in the festive throng. 
I too,  
want you to be celebrated. 

I also want you to acknowledge me. 

Acknowledge that upon me was 
bestowed an invitation to a wrestling match 
you never had to fight. 

So don’t try to fix me, 
don’t try to welcome me, 
don’t try to incorporate me, 
don’t try to represent me. 

I don’t need all those efforts, 
though, appreciate them, 
I may.

Just come near. 
Shoulder to shoulder near. 
Close enough to bear my burden. 

Then you might know that 
love is love. 
As you find yourself truly loving me,
for the first time.

NC State University College of Design students, CITY MARKET FARMER’S MARKET, approximately 225 E. Davie Street

You and Me, in the Good Ole Days  

Remember when watermelon, 
as far as the eye could see,  
bridged your feet and the horizon?  

We’d roll them over,  
belly up, 
and look for black widow, 
finding respite in the cool of the shade.  

Farmer arms carrying each 160 pounder  
to meet its friends.  
Truck beds brimming,  
boasting their green bounty.  

Red truck with unboxed Lucky Strike, in cup holder, 
Making its home roadside,  
truck-bed down. 

Vernon Pratt, EDUCATION WALL 1992, 16 W. Jones Street 

You Stoked the Fire  

I am the clay and you are the potter. 
So gather only good sentiment and sense 
and mold me under your hands. 

Though formless now, 
your hand on me will leave a mark.  

Let your imprints, serve as evidence 
of my being fashioned for a specific  
one assured long ago. 

You are one of the first, 
given a glimpse of what I might become.  

So like the watchman,  
marvel at my first hint of light.  
Proclaim to me the sun will rise. 

Seek out majesty. 
Look for goodness. 

Hope for kindness,  
and strength. 

Whatever natural spark you see in me, 
Fan the flame. 

I will remember,  
you stoked 
the fire.  

These poems originally appeared in the February 2022 issue of WALTER Magazine.