ssomna: (shell)
[personal profile] ssomna
I am learning to love this new city.
I am learning that to love a city,
you must walk her streets,
walk miles until you see the way she connects her thoughts,
let her keep you up at night with her shouting,
with her anger and her music and her jackhammers,
trying to make herself whole.
Philadelphia is more than Chinatown and trees,
more than the trains that bring back memories.
Sun and trolley tracks, water ice and paper blowing in the wind,
and always, here, the sounds of children.
The water-ice vendors, engines and sirens,
the neighbors' holler, the party on the next block.
The late-night ice-cream truck,
familiar music to a different beat.

I found a real bodega run by Spanish-speakers,
a church choir pouring their voices into the street,
an old Jewish cemetery,
the Italian market churning into waves of new arrivals.
I need to try some of these Mexican places.
Slowly, the city changes from not-New-York
into a place I almost-know.
Slowly the city becomes mine.

We sit here in our east-coast metropolises,
in these immigrant-fed bastions of money and rightminded individuals.
We talk about the death of New Orleans,
Detroit's impending doom,
and I wonder.
Who are we to speak these death sentences,
we who have only changed planes in those cities?
We've never walked their streets,
never felt the rhythms change through the days and the seasons,
stayed up listening to the people argue in the streets,
never figured out their webs of grocery stores and utility companies.
Sure, I was a tourist once.
I hammered new nails into water-wrecked walls,
replaced the siding the hurricane tore off.
It's not enough.
It only told me I couldn't begin to understand.

I knew Harlem's rhythm like my heartbeat:
you never think about it, but you sure miss it when it's gone.
I loved New York, that most parochial of cosmopolitan cities.
I understand there were people who never ventured north of 96th St,
never walked across the Willis Avenue bridge
to the one on 145th St,
watched vibrant Harlem turn into forlorn South Bronx and back again.
(Maybe they walked across the Brooklyn Bridge at night,
marvelling at the lights and the city and the engineering.
It's magical, but it's not the same thing at all.)
I know I don't get Harlem,
know I was just a visitor borrowing everyone else's city,
but I will never let you tell me it is dying.

I grew up in Rochester, and her heartbeat stutters,
but her young people cluster in parks and café,
gently teasing the city that they love.
All it takes to love a city is to live there,
let yourself
live there, walk the streets in the morning and at night,
eat in the restaurants that you find,
carry your groceries home in the rain.
It is easy for foreigners to pick up the teasing,
to take frustrated teenagers seriously, when they flee for New York's lights.
My sister walks home at midnight through my hometown's unsafe streets.
If she can get in for grad school, she wants to go back,
get a little apartment with her high-school best friend,
play open mikes and run to the city's rhythm.
There's something she's seen there that I never looked at,
fleeing too fast for the bright lights and fast rhythms,
for the drums and rushing freedom of subway trains.

Here in our metropolitan bastions,
high-rent cubbyholes and suburban estates,
we laugh and talk urban planning.
We sigh at the declines,
plot expensive schemes to prevent these imminent deaths.
Urban wastelands in the rust belt, these dying industrial towns.
Cities that never should have been, doomed from the start.
There is much theory and little love.
We've read so much, but what can we know?
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December 2010

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