In North Philly, we were ambushed by a rogue visitor;
one that clutched our throats and threatened to choke us
out of our budding Americana.
That March, someone reported us to immigration.
And after an investigation,
we were sent a decision.
Arriving in a letter, neat and succinct, was our invitation to travel.
The Mayson family is ordered to depart from the United States of America
at your own expense on or before April 2, 1979.
And we were guilty of the worst crime.
We had no papers.
Pretending to be Americans,
hiding in plain sight among the good people of Philadelphia.
Frenzied lot of Liberians we were,
not even living high off the fat of the land.
We didn’t even sip their milk or their honey.
A shrinking life we had.
So hushed in fact,
that night I strained to hear my father cry—
my mother’s whimpers, barely audible.
And even I learned to tuck this voice
under my tongue
and didn’t release it for years.
But there is still life here
Someone tagged the shiny new bus stop shelter
just days after the glass got busted out.
Fat nasty letters graffitied on the boarded up frame
commanded, Don’t Gentrify Us!
We spy small movements here and there.
The man who bought the old firehouse and sat
on it for 7 years is making “artist share spaces”
with luxury apartments above. He makes sure the doors
and windows, fences and barriers are hood proof for now.
He doesn’t speak to neighbors while he works.
He and one of his golden hair boys hunch over
this new project, loose limbed and unbothered,
with a palpable air of ownership—like when a dog
runs up on a new spot, sniffs it out, claims it and sprays.
The entire avenue has gone to crap,
said one long time resident as she
shakes her silver rod set in my direction.
That’s how you know it’s changing she says—
when it’s allowed to sit and rot with no interventions,
just endless meetings to distract and defeat.
She tells me that the vultures will swoop in and collect
shells and reimagine relics; then defiantly confides to me,
but they won’t collect these old bones!
I know that’s right, I say back at her as we
pass one empty storefront after another—
display windows barren, riot gates shuttered.
On one of the neighborhood’s social media pages,
the newcomers are a particularly crafty bunch,
holding full court virtual councils on our hood.
It starts with an assertion or accusation of an eyesore;
sometimes a photo branded “bad renovations” is posted;
or someone doesn’t like another’s siding or
choice of windows or painted brick facade.
The overseers have an aesthetic and they’re
ticked that the masses don’t follow.
Remember your 8th grade bullies?
Remember senseless playground rumbles?
Remember getting jacked up after school, just because?
It’s like that except the bullies are all grown now
and they tow their elitism, classism and racism
across Zuckerberg’s virtual stage and puff chests
and huff and heave with each click and post.
The “SELL US YOUR HOME” leaflets invade our mailboxes.
Gaudy loud colored flyers and bandit signs are stapled
on telephone poles. Robocalls and personalized text
messages urge us to Sell, Sell, Sell our piece of property.
Brad or Mike or Jason want to take our burden of a home
off our hands and into his to bulldoze or to pile on two
extra stories of boxy condos; and then suddenly, the streets
will be cleaned and garages will replace basements and faces
too will be replaced. Some have taken the cash and exited,
others hold out, but patient speculators watch the block,
and we watch them; each side driving stakes deep into the concrete.
And then just like that,
the world hurled its magnificent body against us all,
Rammed the pandemic right into our lives and routines and ugliness.
And just for a moment, we were all raw, all scathed, all gutted.
And just for a moment, we raised our white flags and paused.
So now we’re here.
After 365 harrowing days,
after we’ve lost and mourned and isolated;
we are here now. We are here now.
2020 made the mice and pigeons anxious too.
They thieved the breadcrumbs right off those old trails
we once refused to abandon and now we can’t go back.
And now we must resist the urge
to wound, to pierce one another.
Even if we falter or fault or fail
and think all has dissolved,
even if in our blue blue moments
we think we too may disappear
and we hang our heads so low
that it shadows our new paths
even then, we have to point ourselves forward.
There is still life here
and this is where we will pick up from.
A neighbor clears the trash with her lone broom,
her 80 decade old fingers grip the handle
her stooped back bends just at the right angle
to spy me moving toward her to grab her haul—
bottles and cans and plastic bags and bits of stupid
stuff that littering people drop along streets when
they think no one cares. We stand there together,
nearly two generations apart and grin at our progress.
Here on this forgotten block, we are pointing ourselves forward.
There is still life here people.
If we try a little tenderness, we will nurture it.
Even with warning signs of
what’s to come tagged on bus stops,
even with elders clutching their bones on the avenue
and abandoned store fronts pleading
and new construction notices and moving trucks,
and leaflets that offend with promises to devour us,
there is still life.
We are still a beautiful people.
We are still breaking through.
We are still holding steady.
We are still pointing ourselves forward.