Poem Obsession

Do you have untethered snippets of novels and poems floating around in your brain? I do. They drive me to distraction.

I was a seriously geeky kid. Part of that involved competing on my high school’s National Forensic League team in prose/poetry reading and debate. One year I recited an excerpt from Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper,” which scarred my brain forever. The year before, I recited a poem that I only ever knew as Lump of Clay. I performed the poem every few weeks for a year, then never encountered it again. That poem has been niggling at me every since.

About ten years ago, I started looking for a copy of the poem hoping to get it out of my head. Every few months, I would google “I am a lump of clay” and never found the poem – until this week. A high school in Iowa posted the poem on their English department website. Beyond the text, I can’t find anything out about it. I would like to know more about the poem and its author. I have pasted the text of the poem below. If you recognize it, please tell me whatever you know.

“The Plea”

by Josef Rodriguez

          I’m just a lump of clay

         Scooped out of the riverbank

         And molded to the shape of a natural man.

         I’m just a lump of clay

         A handful of water and a fistful of sand

         And a warm exhalation from


         Fifty per cent


         And fifty percent just plain old river mud,

         That’s me ….

         Sometimes I wonder if maybe


         Isn’t beginning to wonder

         If it wasn’t all just a waste of breathe on

         His part ….

         Mud being Mud


         God being God ….

         I’m just a lump of clay ….

         A seething bundle of great aspirations

         And expectations

         A juxtaposition of countries and nations

         And their innovations …

         A shifting kaleidoscope

         Of religions and races ….

         Changing chameleon-like their color of skin

         With each shift of terrain;

         And with gentle irreverence,

         With innocent and collossal conceit,

         Changing the color of their ….

         God ….


         Man must Worship a


         In his own image it seems ….

         I’m just a lump of clay

         And I’ve been fooled and tricked

         And taken again and again ….

         Through all the long dying ….

         Through all the long howling and crying of war …

         I’m just a lump of clay …

         And I’m cornered at last in a time

         Where the sky threatens to fall on me

         For all of eternity …

         Cornered …. Holding in my hands and heart

         One last desperate simple plea ….

         For peace.

         I’m just a lump of clay

         And I’m alone and afraid …. Do I have to be?

         Listen to me …. I don’t have to be!!

         Not while I can reach out to you

         And cry ….

         “Neighbor, neighbor, you and I

         Were born together beneath the same sky:

         Chinaman, African, Russian

         We’ll hold up the sky and it won’t fall

         Yes, I’m just a lump of clay,

         But put me together in a mass

         And there is weight there enough

         To level a forest, drain a sea

         Change the course of a universe

         Or of a war ….

         And so

         Kings, Dictators, and rulers of nations

         Don’t tell me my world’s going to end !!!!

         Why, I haven’t seen enough ranibows

         Reached for enough stars

         Or kissed enough pretty young girls

         Under the smoked silver sliver of the moon;

         So don’t you scream at me

         About killing and dying

         When I haven’t even begun to live yet!!!

         Listen, Tender, Sparkers who ignite

         The fire of war ….

         I, the lump of clay …

         Am a stubborn, song and sinew thing and I won’t step out

         Of your way

         Not while I have hands to plead

         And a voice to cry …

         For peace!

         Peace …

         That is my plea …

         I ask it humbly …

         After all,

         I’m just a lump of clay …

         Scooped out of the river bank

         And molded to the shape

         Of a natural man …

         I’m just a lump of clay …

         A handful of water and a fistful of sand

         And a warm exhalation from God …

         Fifty per cent  God

         And fifty per cent

         Just plain old river mud, that’s me …

         Sometimes I wonder if maybe


         Isn’t beginning to wonder

         If it wasn’t all just a waste of breath on His part

         Mud being Mud

         God being God.

         I’m just a lump of clay …

         And I’m cornered

         And alone and afraid,

         But if you’ve listened to me

         If you’ll answer my plea …

         Do I have to be?

12 thoughts on “Poem Obsession

  1. I also recited it at high school speech meets and am thrilled to see the whole text from you. I know nothing about the author and was wondering who he is and if he has written anything else. No luck searching yet…

  2. I recited a similar one at High school speech meets too. It is NOT the same one. The one I remember had a part about a rag doll thrown into a puddle of broken glass. I really, really would like to find the one I read….30 years ago.

    1. It’s amazing how much those recited poems stick in your head. I was in the National Forensic League around 30 years ago too, in Massachusetts. I wish I appreciated what a great learning experience it was at the time.

  3. I recited this poem 33 years ago in speech contests while I was in high school. I, too, have been searching for it and am so glad to finally find it here, thank you thank you for posting!!

  4. I, too, recited The Plea in National Forensic tournaments in Fort Wayne, Indiana back in 1970 and 71. I won many first places and went to state with it. Found little to nothing in the 70’s and would love to know more.

  5. I was in the audience for the finals in Original Oratory at the 1962 NFL National Tournament, in Missoula Montana. I was second in my event. This was the winning Original Oratory, or if not in its entirety, was taken from it. I don’t remember Josepf Rodriguez in particular, but I do remember the speaker had a hispanic name.

    It was spectacular – soared far above #2 and #3.

    Edward Mallett, Houston.

    1. How interesting, Edward. It was is Original Oratory, not Poetry/Prose recitation? That might be an important clue in finding the poet. Most of the people who have contacted me either heard or read the piece as a published piece of poetry. Thank you so much. You’ve given me another avenue for research.

      Thank you for dropping by.

  6. I too have looked for this poem for fifty years- we had to learn it in high school – actually I was a junior that year so that makes it 51 yrs. Thank you for finding it.

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