Krys Malcolm Belc

Johnny Brenda’s
Where Frankford Avenue meets Girard Avenue—heart of demolition, of crumble and shiny plastic—you can see Philadelphia’s most surprising sunset, melting purple bleeding into orange-red, punctuated by Fishtown’s rowhomes and churches. Forget that this is a site of colliding worlds: battles over demolition and rebuilding, crumbling buildings, plastic construction, streets blocked by concrete trucks and delivery vans, articles in national magazines about how we’re just arriving, here on Frankford Avenue, the oldest road in Pennsylvania.

We came thousands of sunsets ago to see a singer neither knew perform upstairs at the place on the corner. Off the El, along Girard Avenue where four lanes of traffic flew by. Up sticky steps we went hand in hand. Leaning against the bar, me with my Kenzinger, you with your Sprite, shoulders rubbing those of the people who became our neighbors, you laughed when I asked to move here, to leave behind the life we knew across the city. I put my beer on the bartop and turned towards the music. You were seventeen weeks pregnant with our first baby, and we were in the place I wanted to be.

Cake Life Bake Shop
Over the next decade we predicted, we continue to predict, the comings and goings of restaurants and buildings and people, the construction battles and crews, while walking up and down this thoroughfare with our plum stroller. Who could have predicted the new mural by the bakery, depicting trans people of color: We’re trans/we’re survivors/we are joyful/we feel rage. We are universal! In the months since I had our last baby I have walked by that mural a thousand times, its blush and honey mirroring Fishtown sunset, its cyan branches climbing across and up the bakery wall. We have come and gone and come again, and this is home now. We are as permanently here as we ever could be anywhere, and finally our neighborhood’s queerness is also reflected on Frankford Ave.

La Colombe Coffee Roasters
With exhausted postpartum feet I walk into and out of concrete divots and over loose gravel pits, towards and away from the café we have come to rely on as we had our second, our third, our fourth baby here. In line are dozens of familiar strangers, all at long wooden tables. Coffee in hand, around the corner, to the community garden smushed between new and old. Across the street, old brick houses share the block with a row of towering new construction. With coffee in one hand, I push the stroller against the fence with the other. Where once sat an eleven-ton trash dump, two picnic benches. Neighbors coming together. Flowers, a little library of children’s books. The neighborhood’s noise quiets down for a minute, and I sit with our baby and remember.

1238 Crease Street
That night in 2012, we left the bar in a small crowd, down the steps and into the February black. It was Friday, the whole weekend ahead of us, the farmer’s market across town and an indulgent nap after. But for a moment, possibility, lights twinkling down Frankford Avenue with more on their way. We were the new thing coming.

Krys Malcolm BelcKrys Malcolm Belc is the author of the memoir The Natural Mother of the Child: A Memoir of Nonbinary Parenthood (Counterpoint) and the flash nonfiction chapbook In Transit (The Cupboard Pamphlet). His essays about queer and trans family life have been featured in Granta, Guernica, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. Krys is the memoir editor of Split Lip Magazine. He is the 20232025 Edelstein-Keller Writer in Residence at the University of Minnesota. Krys considers Kensington, Philadelphia home.  

Krys Malcolm Belc photo credit: Mark Likosky

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