Four Blank Slates

Beside an unused union hall
And an abandoned factory
By the Allegheny River
In another rust belt city
You can see the well-dressed families
On Memorial Day
Reading the names on the walls
Of all those who went away

Who went off in a ship
And came back in a bag
Packed into a coffin
Wrapped up in a flag
I saw a war on every stone
I read a name on every line
And when I reached the end
A chill ran down my spine

Four blank slates
For battlefields yet unknown
That soon some will call their own
A wordless message in a frame
Four blank slates
For the dice that aren’t yet tossed
For the lives that aren’t yet lost
For a war without a name

What will be written on that stone
Will it be on Persian soil
Will they say it was for freedom
Or Venezuelan oil
The only thing that’s certain
Is it will be across the sea
And the new names on this rock
Will have died in someone else’s country


How many other nations
Are already planning their next war
How many people know
It’ll be on someone else’s shore
Will there come a time
When all good people are enraged
To see a slate awaiting
A war that’s not yet waged


Sheet music:
Four Blank Slates

“Four Blank Slates” first appeared on the 2003 Soundclick online release, Waiting for the Fall. It then appeared on the 2006 CD, Halliburton Boardroom Massacre and the 2009 retrospective CD, also titled Waiting for the Fall.

I was at a war memorial somewhere, where there was a slate for each war that local people had died fighting in. But they also had extra slates, already placed and ready for future wars. Now I can’t remember where it was, but I have since learned that it wasn’t unique in this way. What other country in the world engages in this practice? My guess would be none of them.