Habitual return into lands
of outer Philadelphia
highway along reeds and pale water
grey a source for exhale, exile
power plant giants call the edge
their home — these late afternoon
hauls and winding hum from lane
to dust-shaded pavement darkened
in deep-thought rain — always the bridge
is its blue, and its criss-cross beams ushering
lines of purring vehicles into city
limits — if paid attention to, the continuation
of palette over squat, viscous skyline —
“I am always here for your ponderance,
but not always worthy” — moving
makes reckoning, finds vantage point
in the continuum — smeared sky where
lit-white opaque of smoke stays
low, becomes everything else.
Down Cumberland the kiddie pools have been emptied, deflated, dragged indoors and the old trees are lingering with slow leaves as dusk catches up inch by inch. Past the steepled church of dark red brick that stretches up into the twilight kind of streetlight and its sign that jokes: “Sign broken. Come inside for message,” which has been up for months — past the church at the end of the block the cobblestones begin, stumbling their wide way left and right up Trenton. The uneven sidewalk leads from stoop to stoop, and the houses loom up together, tall with gilded numbers, faded American flags, planters with the vestiges of blooms, windows with cats and conversation pieces and handmade bows. Down Cumberland the men stride out of doors with medium-sized dogs and the women sit out and talk loudly about work while smoking cigarettes, and the ice cream truck makes it last sad attempt at luring customers as its nursery tune fades around the corner, and the kids hide from their fathers at the end of the block until they are called with a holler. And when everything becomes quiet in Fishtown, you can hear the wind begin the season as it takes the first leaf down.
(Poets & Writers’ prompt was to write a piece about a street name. I chose my own — sorry this is late, Gagan! <3)
It seems silly and mundane, but I’ve recently conquered my fear of driving. After eight years of inhabiting cities with decent public transportation, Philadelphia now means a new job, a new life, new necessities, and giving some TLC to an old car. I believe that my nervousness at having to maneuver a car was always closely linked to a much deeper fear that I’ve always had, that of having no control and/or being controlled by external forces when it comes to my life, my relationships, my goals. A stubborn independence, that automatic defensiveness when I feel that someone is trying to make a decision for me or tell me what to do. Though I attribute that to parents who took more of a backseat attitude where it mattered while I was growing up, the inflated pride many times becomes a defect.
I was involved in a small accident once years ago, and that split second of total surrender to panic while having no immediate command of your limbs was terrifying, akin to that feeling in those dreams where you mean to brake but instead accelerate into a pole, or the side of a house, or where you want to scream or run, but your body is paralyzed. Ever since returning from Madrid, this new sense of independence and responsibility (financial and familial) has directed my endeavors towards figuring out how the next stage of my life should play out. I’ve dedicated months to job searching, working and tutoring part-time, watching entire seasons of Dexter, running, going to writing groups, catching up with friends, clearing out my email inbox, and karate chopping my sister because I could. Now life is really starting to get into gear, and it seems I have full reign of things. Even though I don’t really know what’s in store the next couple of years, it’s OK because, like driving, once I’ve figured enough things out, it’s time to sit back and let go. (But keep steering.)
In sleep the collision
into a tree is like that
of a tin-colored,
banging blindly into
your basement shelving units.
With a wide flick of the switch
the machine responds in delayed
fashion. Reverse to brake.
Watch it careen into a wall.
Your foot on the wrong pedal,
engine shaking in disbelief.
Mouth on the wrong word.
A year swallows five suddenly;
you’re here without
having expected to age,
you need a rehearsal
for the unintended.
In that dream where you lose
your teeth they say it’s
the same fear, the one that
runs you off the road —
no time to devise an action
for what your nerves should
have gathered by stomached reflex;
but the muscle memory
fails you, the tree comes
spinning into view, the vocal chords
stopped up, damped.