The following is a poem I wrote and read at the unveiling ceremony of this mural,
which is on the side of the Father Ryan Arts Center.
"I Myself am That!" A Celebration of the Spirit of McKees Rocks
A 95-foot Mural completed in 2003 through the Sproutfund’s Mural Project Pittsburgh, PA
I am the rugged wall, bumpy, irregular, wavy - defying straights lines and welcoming transformation. I am Italian Renaissance windows over-looking McKee’s Rocks from Mt. Washington through the pre-dawn waning moon to the full moon at the end of a day. I am the colors of the bricks of McKees Rocks holding the windows and the people of the Rocks. I am the borders of the windows heralding those who came here from Poland, Carpatho-Russ, the Ukraine, Germany, the many countries of Africa, and Ireland. And I am the border of the window honoring the first peoples of this land.
I am the symbols traveling around the windows -the Carpatho -Russe symbol of eternal life, the African symbol of doing the impossible task, the Irish symbol of the trinity, the Native American symbol of the human being, the Native American symbol of the Medicine Wheel whose colors stand for all the races of the world I am the texture and mixture of ethnicities that challenge, strengthen, divide and energize this nation. I am the hills and waters, the bridges and churches.
I am the Adena mound on top of the Rocks, holding the bones of the first peoples of this land, once 85 feet long and 20 feet high, almost the size of this building. I am the Spring, the Spring in McKees Rocks, The new growth, tender and green. I myself am That!
I am the Moslem woman whose God within is the light of service and the love of all humanity – Who made my mother comfortable in the last days of her life when no one else knew how.
I am the fireman whose God within is purely and simply helping people. I am the young white ex-crack dealer whose God within is an angel with white wings and a white dress. After three years of doing time, he now has a job and is straight. “How did you do it, man? That’s big, to leave the street life?” “I surround myself with only positive people.”
I am the 80 year old factory worker from a Polish family of ten whose God within is the white and blue of the Virgin Mary. He worked in the steel mills and paper factory for 30 years, but neither one long enough to get much of a pension. $68 a month is the meager harvest of his labor. I am the son of Croatian immigrants who returned to McKee’s Rocks with a vision of planning and prosperity. His God within is the ancestors - his grandfather who ran a bar and the mill worker patrons.
I am the eight-year girl who worked on the mural in the hot muggy sun doing everything that she was asked with a smile and efficiency beyond her years - a girl whose God within is a rose for her heart. She moved the 12-foot scaffolding by herself! I am the policeman whose God within is the expanse of ocean and sky, pointing to the challenge and achievement of the impossible task. I am the woman who generously sold this building for the art center whose God within is her beloved husband – gone after 30 years of maintaining the building, making possible a new life today. I myself am that!
I am the three year old who points to the mural and tells her mother "That's my painting.” I am the mother who gently responds "It's everyone's painting.” Pointing up to the river, the young daughter says, "Thank you my water."
I am the elder Polish man who speaks a little English, nuzzling up to me upon meeting as if we grew up in the same village and language is no barrier.
I am the butterflies – orange, yellow, blue-black, white -the dragonflies, the soft brown moth and the plump grasshopper visiting the wall.
I am the psychologist from Ghana who listens to his calling, rolls up his sleeves and does whatever needs to be done.
I am the father of two who hints that there is a pain beyond healing and sharing; loving his e.e. cummings , his family, his hometown, his country; bringing cold drinks and conversation in the heat of the 95 degree muggy afternoons.
Thank you my water.
I myself am That!”
I am the great grey heron flying past,
The sharp-shinned hawk, the red-tail, the turkey buzzard.
I am the first young black man to be on the volunteer fire department who is figuring out how to minister to the elders in the nursing home and spends a day with homeless people in the city.
I am the bird-like young woman of high years who speaks little English and watches me from across the street, waving back when I wave to her.
I am the Tailor who brings me a case of bottled water, books with African patterns and a critical eye that the mural needs.
“Thank you my water.”
I myself am That.
I am the conversations that are catalyzed by the power of vision and paint – “It’s about time some one did something about this place.” “What do you think about the gay bishop? Have you told Father Ryan your opinion?” “I’m thinking that I won’t sell my building down the street now that the mural is here.” I am the tired, beautiful young mother getting off the bus from work with her two year old and four year old waiting for her return. I am the ambitious brothers, one going to Slippery Rock - a wide receiver on the football team, one going to Community College of Allegheny County to become a child psychologist.
I am the farmers bringing their fresh fruits and vegetables, gladiolas and
sunflowers, grown with the sweat of their muscles, to the lot by the mural every
I am the welcomed thunderstorms that drench the dry earth with water and give
me an excuse to visit with my son,
returned home from the summer, since I can’t paint in the rain.
Thank you my water.
I myself am That!
I am the man who lost his job and lost his wife and children to his best friend. Now all he wants is just to be independently wealthy and happily married.
I am the skunks wafting their wild smell into the Rocks.
I am the black man, too young to have had a stroke, who talks to me with a device that speaks phrases and gives warm support for my effort with his big smile.
I am the four year old girl who tells her mother as she passes by the mural, "My job is to paint!"
She’s the daughter of the tired, beautiful young mother who gets off the bus everyday from work.
I am the yellow jackets with their cozy homes in the cracks in the tiles on top of the building
Who have worked peacefully side by side me for six weeks.
I am the 88 year old sign painter, who wears a cap like my Pawpaw Harry, traveling for several hours on the bus two times a day to visit his wife in the hospital.
I am the young woman in the Rental Store who brings water in the heat of the day and says she’s proud of her neighborhood now.
Thank you my water.
I am the white man, too young to have had a stroke, who yells up "Paint me a picture. Paint me a picture of you naked."
I am the drugs, the alcohol, the tobacco
Inhaled, smoked, consumed
to ease the mountain of pain of McKees Rocks,
Only to make more hurt,
Losing a child, losing a limb, losing a life.
I Myself am That.
I am the Vietnam vet who was thrown out of the house in the winter when he was 16 and was shot in the foot during the war.
Now he’s a commander in the American Legion and is looking for someone to write down his stories.
I am the two white boys and two black boys
Riding bicycles together at top speed
With freedom and joy at their backs on a childhood’s summer day.
I am the young white crack dealer, thin, shabby, doing the trade with a black guy in my view, in broad daylight – a person in trouble, a town in trouble, a nation in trouble.
I am the young black crack dealer, doing the trade with a white guy in my son’s view the day before in broad daylight -a person in trouble, a town in trouble, a nation in trouble.
Drugs are the equal opportunity destroyer.
I am the young billboard guy who gets frightened
by the yellow jackets in their cozy nests,
and kills them with Hotshot the day the mural is done.
I myself am That!
I am the German man, the Jewish man, the man with a new hip (ouch), the man who is really a woman (double ouch)
Who each generously and cheerfully aids, abets and cajoles
The hundreds of large and small tasks at hand.
I am the nurse/artist whose way is miraculously opened so she could make her powerful marks on the wall.
I am the landscape designer who instantly draws a sketch of barrels filled with grasses and flowers to go in front of the mural,
then stays to paint, lug, research, help.
I am the daughter of the Muslim woman who works harder and longer
in the heat to help me than anyone else,
Whose diligence and warmth made this achievement possible.
I am the honorable Catholic Sisters and Fathers,
Living the word of Jesus’ love,
Year after year, service after service, set back after set back,
Making the spiritual practical –
Scrambling, scraping, struggling, failing, succeeding –
On the verge of a new enterprise - a center of creativity and care.
I am the Sproutfund,
Growing seven works of imagination and heart throughout the city,
Doing the impossible task,
Believing in the conversation between community and creators,
Making decisions and taking action.
I am the eagle, the bird of possibility and power,
Soaring strong and free above us all.
I am this question – What are your living pictures of the God within?
I am this building, this hope, this spring, this beginning.
Thank you my water.
I myself am That!