Saturday, January 18, 2014

An Ode to the Neighborhood

In honor of the city which I am visiting, tonight I post a poem about another city I lived in, Philadelphia. My partner and I often joke about how Philadelphia, and a particular neighborhood in West Philadelphia, is our ancestral homeland. We say this for a lot of reasons, but I think the biggest reason is that there we had the best sense of community and connectedness that we've experienced in our adult lives. It's hard to be away from it, though the choices we have made are the right ones.

I wrote this sestina in 2008, just after we moved away from the neighborhood. We moved away because I was following a job that made it possible for me to farm and get paid, a rare and good thing. But even though the choices were right, the missing was, and is real. Here's an ode to the neighborhood. I still miss you, West Philly.

An Ode to the Neighborhood, 2008

Monday mornings at the Satellite
café before I ever fell for a punk
kale smoothie or found a job, anarchist
dreams stirred my mocha. Green
monsters struck discordant rhyme, bicycles
flew over potholes at break-neck speed, and I was in love.

I'd never lived in a place that loved
you back. Other cities were a distant satellite
orbiting around the hot center of my longing. I'd bike
through Boston, Newark, Providence, feeling like a punk
in straight clothing, seeking out the green
center of life seething anarchic

hope—and find myself in endless pseudo-anarchist
meetings, hamstrung consensus blocked by love
less egos. Less radical activists in the Green
Party dedicated to their navels saw justice as a satellite
to their central passion—themselves. But here, punk
meets crunch, hipster meets play, and we're all bikers

we're all known to each other. Late night bicycle
posses take over our tree streets. Anarchist
collectives hash out their truths in  post-punk
movement organizing calling for a greater love
than capitalist competition. We know we're satellite
to the mainstream. We like it that way. Our greening

newness recreates itself with each attempt to coax green
life from brownfield, from abandoned row house. We build bicycles
from scrap, gardens from abandoned lots. We take the satellite
decay and breathe new life through concentric anarchy—
no gods, no government, each guided to each through love
of life splitting open all codes, all masters, all punk

odes and pacifist leanings lost in the world punked,
pushed aside for the inevitable twine of green
vine around the filthy palimpsest of blasted out blocks. With love,
you build something new. Neighborhoods with bicycle
collectives, food co-ops with wings, anarchist
meeting spaces, urban farms, and satellite

lives orbit the greater satellite of our punk longings—
for endless green on broken city streets, for anarchist rhyme to play on
low power radio stations, and for love to ride on a fixed gear bike down the hallowed halls of West Philadelphia.

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