You Can’t Keep A Good Man Down. Or Black Hail Over All of West Side
I met a man from Ethiopia in a bar.
A man who treated me to one glass of beer after the other,
A man who was out on the town to celebrate.
When I asked him why he was so happy,
Why he was so generous,
Why he was celebrating, he replied:
“I’ve lost my job!”
“What? You’ve lost your job and you’re celebrating?”
Then he told me that he hated his job
As a cleaner, that he had washed floors in a firm of lawyers on west side,
That when working he was never allowed to look these lawyers in the eye,
That he had been given strict instructions to keep his gaze fixed on the floor
Every time these lawyers went past in their expensive suits
And black briefcases, hurrying down the corridors.
He was never to return their looks,
He was never to greet them,
Just wash and wash with his gaze fixed on the floor.
As if he didn’t really have any business to be there.
As if he wasn’t to be heard or seen.
As if he wasn’t worth more than the mop and wash-bucket he used.
As if he was part of all the dirt they wanted removed.
Not once had these well-heeled gentlemen
Stopped and asked what his name was.
Not once had they
Stopped and asked how he was doing.
Not once had they allowed him to eat lunch
In the same canteen as them. Not once.
And these lawyers worked on issues
To do with right and wrong.
One day this Ethiopian dared to look them in the eye.
One day this Ethiopian dared to greet them. It was this he wanted to celebrate.
That he defied them, that he stood up for his identity, that he stood up for all cleaners,
That he stood up for his wife, that he stood up for his son, that he stood up for his daughter,
That he met them face to face, as if he wanted to say: “I am!”
And that was enough to get him the sack.
That night, after meeting him in the bar, I dreamt that black hail hammered over all of west side.
Black hailstones the size of hand grenades. Black hail that smashed skylights.
Black hail that dented car roofs. Black hail that tarred balconies. Black hail
That filled garden plots. Black hail that coloured the streets with night. Black hail!
For this cleaner showed me with all his being:
You Can’t Keep A Good Man Down.