west of philly
By Yolanda Wisher
they asked me to write a poem like a lush life,
a johnny hartman poem. a poem that would make
your fake eyelashes fall off. a poem with the city all
up in it. a poem, matter of fact, like a city, one that
can only be reached by train. yeah, write us a poem
like a train, but not like coltrane. just write a coltrane
poem that contains the essence of the city, the way
the horizon sounds like elvin jones playing cymbals
& trash trucks. i mean, just write a poem that contains
the essence of west philly—a poem you've already
written—write that. yeah, write a recycled philly poem
about a philly that doesn't exist anymore. write the
sequel. write a new romancing the stone, but set it in
philly, starring a black woman poet & a belizean sailor.
write that scene where your angry neighbors shut down
a fast food joint with danny devito or those motley kids
discover the smirking mouth of a creek buried under
43rd. make sure it's juicy with brotherly love & that other
stuff. drop-in a cheesesteak, but make sure it's gluten-free
because our audience is particular. y'know, like people who
don't like poetry. not that you can't write what you want,
but for now, just write it like you love every damn inch
of the city. even the hawks & vultures & raccoons & the
characters like knives sharpened by the week, or like fruit
bruised & first-frosted. write it like you believe the city has
seasons, that it can change in its deepest cracks, unseen
corners. write like you know these corners, you know
why this building is painted pink, why this one is empty,
why this one is a missing tooth on the block. write it like
you know what it's like for a tooth to be taken. write it
like you know what it's like for a home to be lost. or try
writing it like you carry the voices of lost homes to bed
with you. like they are evidence & you are a detective.
like they are memories & you are family. write it like you
can see beyond seeing. like you know the origin of
shoulders sharp as javelins, can decode 3-pointed stars
hunched under streetlights. like you are related to the men
selling socks & incense, oils & belts. like you can read the
compass on their faces. like you can recreate the arpeggios
of the one-eyed singer or the $200 upright with beer-colored
keys at the thrift store. just write a poem like a secondhand
store full of dishes & leather jackets. vibrating with the leftovers
of people. bleeding in solidarity with a woman in a ripped red
sweater like an ear, wailing in the street one summer night.
a poem full of peach seeds & lightning bugs. a poem that can
change the color of the sky.
This incredible Poem-a-Day happened because the poet "was asked by an editor to write another poem just like '5 South 43 Street, Floor 2'" from her earlier book. She struggled against the idea, "especially because that little block of West Philadelphia has changed so much since I lived there," and the editor rejected the poem as "a mockery of the assignment." Now she is happy to have discovered "poetry's ability to bear witness to the razing loss of neighborhood culture through gentrification."
Tuesday was less eventful than Monday, which was fine. I was going to visit niece, but she slept most of the day and still isn't feeling great, which is worrying. I did a bunch of computer stuff that took way longer than I expected, then went out to get some cat stuff, stopped at a local jewelry store that is closing after decades in Rockville, and came home with a bunch of Brighton charms for less than $3 each. And I did a raid in Park Potomac, followed by a trade that got me a lucky Ho-Oh!
We had Indian food for dinner and watched the season premiere of The Flash, which was better than last season finale, I guess (I am ready for some stories without any extended West-Allen family angst and with the show's early humor, not an all-season arc with a Big Bad), followed by Black Lightning, which remains excellent (family angst secondary to powerful social angst). And the Red Sox beat the Yankees! From the Folger Shakespeare Library, here are a few photos from Churchill's Shakespeare:
Editions of Hamlet in English, French, and German from the Great War era, which coincided in 1916 with the 300th anniversary of Shakespeare's death.
A letter from Churchill to his mother explaining that he has been trying to win the Shakespeare prize at Harrow.
An illustration of Churchill's mother, the (in)famous socialite Jennie Jerome, Lady Randolph Churchill, dressed as Olivia from Twelfth Night at a ball held as a fundraiser to build a national Shakespeare theater.
Churchill wrote a story about encountering his late father's ghost in much the same manner that Hamlet met his own father's ghost.
When he wrote A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, Churchill cited Shakespeare numerous times, including these galley proofs quoting Henry V.
A miniature set of Shakespeare's plays given as a gift to Churchill, on loan to the Folger Library from Churchill's family.
An illustration in Punch upon the publication of Churchill's biography of his ancestor the Duke of Marlborough imagining a visitation by Marlborough's ghost to his descendant, encouraging his career.
Churchill's bowler and cane on loan from the National Trust.