west of philly

Yolanda Wisher
they asked me to write a poem like a lush life,
a johnny hartman poem. a poem that would make
your fake eyelashes fall off. a poem with the city all
up in it. a poem, matter of fact, like a city, one that
can only be reached by train. yeah, write us a poem
like a train, but not like coltrane. just write a coltrane
poem that contains the essence of the city, the way
the horizon sounds like elvin jones playing cymbals
& trash trucks. i mean, just write a poem that contains
the essence of west philly—a poem you’ve already
written—write that. yeah, write a recycled philly poem
about a philly that doesn’t exist anymore. write the
sequel. write a new romancing the stone, but set it in
philly, starring a black woman poet & a belizean sailor.
write that scene where your angry neighbors shut down
a fast food joint with danny devito or those motley kids
discover the smirking mouth of a creek buried under
43rd. make sure it’s juicy with brotherly love & that other
stuff. drop-in a cheesesteak, but make sure it’s gluten-free
because our audience is particular. y’know, like people who
don’t like poetry. not that you can’t write what you want,
but for now, just write it like you love every damn inch
of the city. even the hawks & vultures & raccoons & the
characters like knives sharpened by the week, or like fruit
bruised & first-frosted. write it like you believe the city has
seasons, that it can change in its deepest cracks, unseen
corners. write like you know these corners, you know
why this building is painted pink, why this one is empty,
why this one is a missing tooth on the block. write it like
you know what it’s like for a tooth to be taken. write it
like you know what it’s like for a home to be lost. or try
writing it like you carry the voices of lost homes to bed
with you. like they are evidence & you are a detective.
like they are memories & you are family. write it like you
can see beyond seeing. like you know the origin of
shoulders sharp as javelins, can decode 3-pointed stars
hunched under streetlights. like you are related to the men
selling socks & incense, oils & belts. like you can read the
compass on their faces. like you can recreate the arpeggios
of the one-eyed singer or the $200 upright with beer-colored
keys at the thrift store. just write a poem like a secondhand
store full of dishes & leather jackets. vibrating with the leftovers
of people. bleeding in solidarity with a woman in a ripped red
sweater like an ear, wailing in the street one summer night.
a poem full of peach seeds & lightning bugs. a poem that can
change the color of the sky.

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Gwendolyn Brooks Park, Topeka

They carved the letters yellow,
and painted
the wood around the letters green,
chained a picnic table to the grass
out near where the roof of the dead
mall directs a crack
of sunset to radiate the Burger King sign gold.
Last place open after midnight:
then apartment windows hold
stars and satellites in the cold.
A creek runs like a paper fold
from one corner of park to other,
twenty or thirty blocks from where
she took her first breaths of infancy
in the only city I know of
with the letters for poet
that does not also carry
a port or a point in its name.