Walls is a site-specific linocut installation in collaboration with Aziza Afzal. It lives in the basement of our home in Baltimore, MD.

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we hear the crunch when you grind your teeth at night we hear tapping and see a flood of blue light we see landmarks of a childhood play out s l o w l y inch by inch dirt by dust tooth by gum click click click clack

we should have told you where to fit the furniture so you wouldn’t scrape our paint off we should have talked before the lightbulbs exploded we have some regrets but how could we say it?

do we wish we had a face? sometimes or not really a soft maybe what would we even use it for? we could eat and yell and laugh muddied sounds at first then a word would you applaud? soon full sentences rush out hot like vomit and us walls are never well and never quiet

the dog next door barks at every nail hammered into us walls we get it we get it but couldn’t you learn to self soothe maybe dog is just standing up for us we never asked anybody to go fetch but thanks for recognizing our pain

the mice run from the kitchen to the living room squeak and squealing they don’t pay but are here to stay we like them better than the roaches who have thick shells and little to say the mice say “our family has been living here for generations” as if we hadn’t noticed all their years in our crannies

mostly you complain but we understand that too you “didn’t ask to be born” we didn’t ask to be built welcome home to bed and kitchen and papasan chair and a different smell for every season you mean well don’t you and that maters to us after all this time

some tenants hardly ever think aloud we walls are curious about those ones most as long as we are all here passing day and night you might as well share out of respect we only read the outside of your mail pastor ernest mcnair keshawn tolbert monique mcnair lora m hall jack m walter nancy ryan kennedy aziza afzal emma bergman

if we could speak we would say honey i’m home and explode with laughter hah! hahahahaaa because we’re always home not quite stir crazy not quite still never getting to walk in and out of ourselves have we moved an inch in all these years? when the street shook we might have budged a centimeter or two

when the trains come we shake when they get louder we feel it in the bones we don’t have pipes rattle pump water like veins we yell back with creaky joints a thundering row with the street in between

do they really mean it when they say build bridges not walls? do they think boundaries are bad? you need isolation to need bridges you need something worth protecting to build us around it

there is no cat there is no pee it’s just us musty moldy dank damp walls we cannot smell ourselves but we remember how you recoiled and looked for the source spraying cleaner everywhere but the walls is it too much to ask for a wash? not another coat of paint left to flake off scrub a dub dub us like a baby behind the eats no suds in the eyes be gentle with us for once

we are not so sturdy as you like to think we hold up so much we hold in so much every stomp and slam we cannot guarantee stability we get weaker over time tired just like you

our tissue is crumbly drywall our skin is paint inside there’s pipes and wires like organs if you need a relatable metaphor what will it take for you to understand your environment? to empathize with an old house? we with you could hear us we just don’t have a hand or two to spare no mouth or tongue or vocal chords no finders to write you a letter we want to be decorated not with your posters and shit but with our own words please it’s nothing personal

any complaints? you say faulty wiring groan about a crack in the door clogged drain a window that won’t lock but what about us? any praise? or a joke or two? any prayers? any thoughts? we catch a lot of stray glances knock knock who is there it’s us the walls! your turn

what is a building and who made us? we hope we live up to their expectations of us we do not like to disappoint we are constructed by people in yellow hats asking if we are up to code the code you hold us to is not the same code we use to evaluate ourselves we ask harder questions we ponder moral qualms about existence have we fulfilled our maximum occupancy? how will we meet our end and when and why? does it count as meeting our maker if the ones who demolish us are wearing yellow hats too?

pssst floor down there covered in footprints and weighed down did you know your other side is lofty and untouchable you don’t need us but we need somebody to hold us at all the right angles hold our hands keep us rooted pppsssttt hey up there does anybody ever throw back their head and yell to you? howl and look to see if you sag or leak? do you tire of horizontal life? our position between you is unique

who are we even talking to? floors and ceilings aren’t the greatest conversationalists you have been pretty quiet so far but at least you see us at least we have our own space we are our own space we take our own space to sort our unanswerable questions

when you leave will we be painted over? you rent us and we rent you take you for a spin try you on for size knowing you won’t be here long and hoping whoever comes next cares what we have to say are we getting across to you in straight lines? is this a familiar enough format? old humans say “i’m getting too old for this” but what do old walls say when we fear we are not getting through? we could spit out everything over the entire house but we don’t have all that much time and space so listen up

when you read this do you hear our voice or your own? we implicate you and put ourselves in your heads is it just us and you? is anyone else going to see that we think for ourselves when we are all the way down here? will you apologize to your guests for the grime? explain us away? for your sake prepare them for grandeur or disappointment

so we walls can listen but we don’t remember everything only what is said in solitude when no one can hear we can tell bits from what you don’t say over time we piece you together no privacy for either of us you search for evidence of the people we knew before like some jealous lover are you reading into every letter finding a double meaning that follows you after you look away

your human skin and blood cells are being replaced all the time and you’re still you so we’re still us once they strip us down to our frame what is it then that makes us recognizable are we defined mostly by location if we are not permanent fixtures?

we follow your routines the street lights turn on at a different time every night school kids run by at predicable times watch the trains when they come every morning the sizzle of a fried egg every day stomp kick off shoes with sweat or mud or snow you come down to us at a different time each day

we should have told you it would take more than just being here we should have warned you of the time and effort and that you would adjust to us more than we would bend to you this nest’s foundation was already built

brick by brick grunt by whisper scratch by scribble step step step stomp we have no more room and no more questions

we see landmarks of adulthood play out quickly we hear you press in our final letters see the light switch off hear your footsteps fade away in the darkness we cannot see your face and you cannot see our inky words