Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love and home of the famous LOVE statue by Robert Indiana, is taking love to new places. If you happen to be in Philly, chances are you’ll catch sight of the 47 Bus. You can’t miss its bright blocks of color or its bold, emphatic message: WE ARE ALL MIGRATING TOGETHER. This “mural on wheels” is the brainchild of Shira Walinsky, mural artist, and filmmaker Laura Deutch. It runs daily from South Philadelphia’s Whitman Plaza, on through Center City, and all the way up to 5th and Godfrey in North Philadelphia, connecting several multilingual, multiethnic neighborhoods and commercial corridors. Riding the bus through this cross-sectional slice of the city you’ll inevitably hear a cross-cultural variety of languages spoken, while being wrapped in a welcoming collage that represents the patchwork of diverse people whose lives intersect every day. The back of the bus reads “We Are All Migrating Together”—words from the mouth of one of its drivers—and along the way you’ll see murals by and about refugee groups who have recently settled in Philadelphia—the Karen and Chin of Burma, the Bhutanese, the Nepalese.chop! chop! read more!
My mother’s mother,
Widow of the Episcopal
Bishop of Idaho, sat her namesake
My sister, seven,
On her lap and sang to her
You’re so ugly, you’re so ugly
You’re such an ugly child
While Carolyn cried and cried.
The lines repeat.
Get cozy. You pull me
under starlit covers, coax
the past from my throat.
The blue-veined suburbs.
Winters gathered like sticks.
My father, when he was there.
Face-first mornings pressed
to the blacktop, the boyish
crackle of skin on ice. And
in the window, a comet
falling, clearing a path
through the trees.
Any interested parties herein? I sought to execute a release, they ended up executing me.
The conscious pain and suffering, while extreme, lasted approximately 30 years. Yes,
I sought to execute a release. Just the good air and the silent situation. All necessary releases.
I left New York behind, the only decent discovery zone for games and diversity.
Lighting for your soul in purgatory, for deep nights at the end of the dock, for gravetenders on vacation, for the silencing of aspersions. Discounts for camping without a lantern, for al fresco dinners at the café of nevermind, for attending the flatbed truck parade, for packing a canyon with parabolas. Call for a second lighting tomorrow, for delivery of your complimentary rope ladder, for the flame annuity option, for your name on this grain of pollen. Twelve tapers included.
NO REPEAT CUSTOMERS by Josh Wagner Early one Sunday morning Dean and I stumble past the First Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit, the only church in town old enough to have God’s own handprint cemented in the walkway. We’ve been up a while, still not quite ready to pass out. It’s the corkscrew tail end of hour six or seven where synchronous waves start desynchronizing. The afterglow before the crash. Our general consensus is what the hell, so we sway on over through the courtyard where crocus buds pepper juniper hedges and murky stained glass islands float on seas of dried blood brick. A sign says welcome. The door creaks as it swings. The last thing I see before going inside, carved into the arch in vaguely medieval script, are these words: A riddle: How are we desperate and empty half of the day, but content and satisfied the other half? … chop! chop! read more!
if he hadn’t planned to go hunting with his father
if his father had kept the rifle locked away
if that day had been overcast, a variation in our state of sun
if I hadn’t been in a distant country
if lightning rods didn’t have to watch the storm clouds come
if the air took shape as a barrier, and not a field for the bullet to seed
if someone was in the house when he came homechop! chop! read more!
William, who was a cockroach, had a deep love for the music of Beethoven. Born and raised behind the walls of the Cincinnati Concert Hall, he grew up nurturing a passion for the romantics, much like his forefathers, with an affinity for the operas of Wagner and Puccini. To say that music ran in his blood, while biologically inaccurate, would be an understatement. It traces back to his great grandfather, Wilhelm the first, who was an immigrant from Germany, famous for boasting to the uncultured Cincinnati roaches about life behind the walls of the Berlin Opera House (legend had it that he once sat on Herbert Von Karajan’s shoe while the maestro conducted Brahms’ Requiem); and his grandfather, who was taking a stroll to contemplate the thematic development of his first symphony when he was stepped on by none other than Leonard Bernstein. When he was still alive, William’s father longed for the day the family would return to the motherland and hear the acoustics of the famous venues there, but he died while scouting the route to the airport (he was captured and swallowed by a drunk man over a $20 bet).chop! chop! read more!
For 23 years you’re free. Then you go to prison.
You arrive in an orange jail jumpsuit, thin and see-through as a dryer sheet. You sit in a cage until a correctional officer calls you out. State your full name. Any aliases? How tall are you? Yeah you wish, how tall are you really? How much you weigh? Hair color? Eyes? Any scars? Any tattoos? Where? Of what? What size shoe you wear? Pants? Shirt? Get back in the cage.chop! chop! read more!
I will, and I will
Walk into the morning
Light falling like snow: a flurry:
Life. Cold is and I am.
What Phi Dees saw that morning may have disturbed him. At least he has not forgotten and has noted the way the memory prowls unfettered in his mind. What happened would seem to be a simple matter; indeed, natural. A neighborhood cat down low in the grass, inching toward the feeder, leaping through the air to bite a finch off its perch. No skirmish or even sound of a ruffle. There and then not. And the cat turning to look back in his direction.
But what he saw was this: a view of himself, looking up from his reading, observing too quietly the silent scene. Even waiting for its denouement, not unlike when he once watched someone fall slowly down a flight of stairs.chop! chop! read more!
A red-stemmed vase of lightning lifts the sky toward heaven’s permanent farrago of space and time: heavy, religious, worth thinking about, we agree. God might rest easier tonight blessed by our toast, a toast raised above the fold, the mad superciliousness of the headlines, the narcosis of the many. Lincoln, you would’ve reminded me, lives on in the few. We do well, I might have replied, to thank the weather for this breeze, and that bottleneck guitar climbing those angelic blues might be the ultimate apotheosis, yet another reason to go on living as if this day might last forever. Lilacs and a shot of bourbon, neat.chop! chop! read more!
He liked to watch me change.
I slipped a bra strap over my left shoulder.
The room darkened.
As if I could maintain myself.
I dream of living under a bluer star,
a sky more deviant with color.
the glass of water he breaks
after our only night out this week,
a slow drown for him at the bar,
almost ruins a roll of postage stamps
when he comes home and falls down.
i am holding his eyeglasses.
i’m not even sure how
and you move away from him, from us.
SHEEPSCOT WELLSPRING CEMETERY by Michele Leavitt Mercury shrinks to the bottom of the gauge, and you follow the stone wall to a gap too narrow for more than one, past a granite foundation pit, an abandoned orchard, and down through a dark hemlock stand to the ice choking the headwaters. You imagine the gurgle of strangled water, the unbreathable gap between ice and slush, and you’re grateful for spaces between stones in the wall, where your breath, which has now left you for good, collects with the fresh snow. Michele Leavitt, a poet and essayist, is also a high school dropout, hepatitis C survivor, and former trial attorney. In 2016, her essays appeared in Narratively, Guernica, and Catapult. Poems appear most recently in North American Review, concis, and Hermeneutic Chaos. She’s the author of the Kindle Singles memoir, Walk Away. Image credit: Tom Hilton on Flickr … chop! chop! read more!
You could say that the fundamental difference between them was that she was a glass half-fuller and he was a glass half-emptier. Or that she drank water, and he drank.chop! chop! read more!
I threw my sandwich wrapper out in a trash can. On
the side of the trash can was the word LIMITLESS.
I threw out my sandwich wrapper,
I threw out my clothes and toiletries from my
I threw out my suitcase, I took my clothes off and
pressed them through the rim of that trash can.
Magnolia to aloe, silver-sheened river, and shallow.
We are minor in the composition but figure prominently.
Often now I think of the past as a large country
of crumpled maps, fragments
arranged under my feet. Hasn’t it always been
a question of which trees, which injuries
to include, where to place them? To be human is to hoard.
We keep the hours to curate them:
Imagine a place, now mute its colors.
you know that photo
stuck into the side of a frame in the den
you know, the photo of Katie & Jamie on the stairs
well, we found it halfway down the block, black-edged but whole.
must have blown out with the force of the explosion
like a balloon out of a kid’s hand
& maybe two weeks later
you find a mound of popped rubber and string
with a boot print on top
They are cutting down all the trees for Christmas.
Pine and spruce lay bundled on warehouse floors,
and I drink cognac in the corners of silent rooms,
red oriental rugs bursting with flowers and leaves,
warm feet wrapped in wool,
my body a river where the man capsized,
my body that I gave away,
all of it.
This morning, out my window, a strange amber film over the sky. The usually crowded streets now mostly empty, only a few people hurrying down the sidewalk, heads bent in medical masks. In the distance, the temple on the hill just a faint shimmer.
Something on the wind.chop! chop! read more!
Recently, I ruined someone’s moment of mundane joy. The hallways of my campus building were bare—students were taking exams, or locked away in the library and various study nooks they’d marked as their territory, or sprawled on the campus greens. The end of the semester was nigh; my step had a lilt.chop! chop! read more!
Fractious was the Word of the Day, peeled off the doorstop-sized calendar block and stuck to the refrigerator door with a magnetized map of the London Underground, a relic of LBB. LBB — Life Before Benny — was Anna and Keith’s term for a time when their living room wasn’t littered with plastic toys and bits of food. Only eighteen months ago Anna had posted a photo of their freezer, filled with tubes of breast milk, on Instagram. “Our life now,” she’d written. “LBB is in a galaxy far far away.” They’d laughed, but Anna had thumped the next bottle on the shelf with a little more force than necessary.chop! chop! read more!
Lamp by lamp the house of night
shuts. Dawn enlarges;
a father turns off the lights,
loves each room for lives it holds.
I don’t know whether I’m awake or sleeping,
but I know the past is the prison we break into,
a penitentiary of what was before it was nothing.
I’m watching Donald O’Connor wall-walk sets.
The backlot-lumber complains. One minute,
there’s the choreography of a canary-colored
couch defying gravity—the first dance number
We may have found ourselves situated in Phase Three of Baz Luhrmann’s Red Curtain
Trilogy – that kind of progression. From happy ending to two lovers dying for love to one woman dying, coughing up what appears to be blood but is actually a mix of red food coloring, corn syrup and water. It doesn’t make us happy, this.
We wonder how old Luhrmann is, if age is a factor in outlook. How can it not be?chop! chop! read more!
Here’s the way the rain works: it comes down every day for a whole third of the year. June, July, August, September, there isn’t a single day without rain. Sometimes it’s just a loud, violent storm that swoops in, does its bit, and moves on, but as often as not it lingers. Like a cat you’re trying to shoo out the door: it yawns, it scratches, it stretches out its claws, it licks itself. In other words, it takes its time.chop! chop! read more!
Two miles from the Greyhound station, Burt hiked through the pinewoods to the edge of Lena’s backyard. The trailer windows were dark. Her Chevy wasn’t in the driveway. They hadn’t talked during the last nine months of his stint in Starke, and what-ifs had been fermenting like toilet hooch in Burt’s head. But what he saw now in the morning light—Virginia creeper on the siding, bull briars in the yard—was a way to work toward absolution.chop! chop! read more!
I sat on the sidewalk; smoked cigarettes. I never put less than two in my mouth because I figure the time combined is worth more than the time separate. You can’t tax two things like you tax one thing. The sidewalk was black and gray with powder brown cracks. The ground was opening up and I thought it would swallow me up, but I didn’t want the world to think I was scared of it so I just sat still and took drags as they came to me.chop! chop! read more!
“Steve, Mr. Parker, in bed A over there, needs jugular vein access. His peripheral veins are shot from chronic drug abuse. You can handle that, can’t you? “ It was day one of my internship, July first. I’d done a couple of jugular vein punctures as a med student, under the direct supervision of a resident. But now I was on my own.
“Of course,” I said with false enthusiasm.
Jesus, I thought, already? It’s only nine a.m. I officially became a doc only two hours ago. I picked up the jugular vein access kit and headed for Mr. Parker’s room. Alone.chop! chop! read more!
For weeks the slush had been drying off the sidewalks, leaving trails of salty white mist, and still I hadn’t seen Tiny, not since Christmas when he tried to kiss me and said he’d teach me to cut white people hair. During warmer months, Tiny hustled past the social services building most mornings around nine. “There he goes,” somebody would say. We would stop tapping on our keyboards, lean a chair beyond the cubicle wall, and stretch the coiled phone cord to watch him go. Tiny was somewhere in his nineties and barely taller than the corner mailbox. He zipped by, en route to his barbershop, his gait just as steady as any of ours. Most people on my caseload were shut inside their houses forevermore and inched around their kitchens one step at a time. Tiny was my only employed client, although I wasn’t sure how officially employed – I didn’t ask, I didn’t want to know. He always wore a fedora, a necktie cinched tight into his collar, a long cardigan draped off his hunched bony shoulders. Tiny was always impeccably groomed and appropriately dressed for the weather, engaged daily in cardiovascular activity. I nearly finished my functional assessment just watching him haul ass.chop! chop! read more!
The day of the funeral I’m on the treadmill at the senior center.
A guy named Gordon I haven’t seen in a while stops next to me and points. I shake my head, What? He points again. So: I guess my limp is noticeable. I took a minor tumble on some stairs, more sprawl than fall. I’d rather not go into it right now. I’m listening to Ray Charles sing “Oh what a beautiful morning” on my headset and watching Kelly Ripa and Michael Strahan on one of the four TV’s hung on the wall. But Gordon stands there, smiling. I pause the Ray, pop out an earbud.chop! chop! read more!
We are called watchers, though last I heard we were petitioning for a name change. It’s not so much that watcher is an inaccurate title. But it’d be like calling composers listeners or chefs tasters or sculptors touchers—not quite wrong, but certainly a lazy way of going about it.chop! chop! read more!
mother i have strayed here too
long. a winter mist rising at five
o’clock and oustide’s dim. outside’s
lust. (Mother I wish to tell you
I love a girl and I love her naked)
in ten years’ time or twenty
snow will fall from the sky and
i will find within me strength to stay
SPRING STREET Works on Paper by Thom Sawyer Unhappy small towns are all alike—claustrophobic, gossipy, dying. —Timothy Egan I have lived and worked in such a small town as this. Quiet, nondescript streets link manicured lawns and well-kept homes; neighbors guard their privacy as they intrude on the lives around them, paying close attention to the comings and goings of others, particularly those of relative newcomers. It is a strange mixture of the private and public, with odd boundaries that seem fluid—simultaneously hiding and displaying glimpses of interior narratives, opinions, rumors and expected codes of behavior. [click any image to enlarge] My town is a place that echoes David Lynch’s fictional Lumberton and “things that are hidden within a small town… and things that are hidden within people.” Some of those hidden things were revealed during the renovation of the house my wife and I live in—one of the neighborhood’s … chop! chop! read more!
She led us knee-deep into mud.
Horses squealed and thrashed
as the earth dragged them under.
Mire sucked at our boots
while she shouted, stout
on her John Henry mule.
We pulled them hoof by hoof up
from the trembling cold.