|The view from the Philadelphia Museum of Art steps|
down the Ben Franklin Parkway towards Center City
A week before we moved from Philadelphia I spent a day alone at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It was where I had fallen in love with the city back when we first came to Philly for Gary to interview with the Eastern PA Conference.
|The Philadelphia Museum of Art|
with the Schuylkill River and Water Works
Bicentennial era pamphlet
|detail from a lithograph of Philadelphia|
|Philadelphia as we knew it when we moved|
Then came the view of the art museum and the water works in front of it. Going down the Ben Franklin Parkway, bedecked with flags, past fountain circles, and ending with the imposing City Hall. I knew my ancestors had come into this port, and that in some way I was coming home.
|Rodin's The Thinker at the Rodin Museum on the Ben Franklin Parkway|
|Ads including Old Original bookbinders|
Saladalley was one of my clients when I was in sales
|The Fish Market|
|Reading Terminal. Photo by Gary L. Bekofske|
|Ad for the Reading Terminal Market|
|Reading Terminal. Photo by Gary L. Bekofske|
|restaurant ads in Bicentennial pamphlet|
We had gone to the Mummer's Parade on New Years Day, crushed in a crowd of thousands on South Broad Street. We heard the Beach Boys in a free concert on the steps of the art museum on a muggy July 4th.
I had stood in light-filled Christ Church where our patriot forefathers worshipped and supped by candlelight in the City Tavern where they broke bread.
We had seen plays--from Athol Fugard's Sizwe Bansi is Dead to Dracula: A Pain in the Neck; George Bernard Shaw and Shakespeare; Jean Marsh in Too Good to Be True and Leonard Nimoy in a one man play about Vincent Van Gogh. We had seen Cats on Broadway and Candide at the New York City Opera.
And the concerts at the Academy of Music! The Christmas ballets of The Nutcracker and Coppelia. The outdoor concerts at the Robin Hood Dell and Mann Music Center. I remembered the cooling dusk, sitting on a blanket on the grass, transported by Scheherazade, white dining on brie and fruit and wine.
|The Liberty Bell in it Bicentennial location|
|Scenes from around Philadelphia in a Bicentennial pamphlet|
|Dickens and Little Nell by Francis Edwin Elwell. Clark Park, Philadelphia|
Photo by Gary L. Bekofske
Goodbye to being surrounded by history, to walking past where Phillips Brooks wrote 'O, Little Town of Bethlehem,' the Edgar Allan Poe and Walt Whitman Houses, Ben Franklin's grave and the first library which he founded. Goodbye to the 18th c houses and Elfreth Alley and New Market.
Goodbye to the 30th Street Train Station, place of the opening scene of Witness, and to John Wanamaker where a car drove into the display window in the movie Mannequin. I only have to watch Blow Out or Trading Places to revisit the city we knew.
|Bicentennial ad for Wanamaker|
|The Gallery and John Wanamaker|
|At Longwood Gardens|
|Tinicum Nature Preserve|
A cluster of trees
jade green fans brush-stroked against
blue skies dappled with pearly gray clouds
stood lit by a noon-high sun.
Vivid and verdant, richness of growth,
nature's masterwork swathed in movement:
White flight checkering green
or gathered angels.
Souls in gala celebration
saluting the season.
Egrets, white flames
Leaping from cool still green,
darting from depths of green
into shadows of green.
nimbus of elms.
The miracle of flight
visiting the permanence of roots.
|photo by Gary L. Bekofske of Kensington.|
|the new subway station|
|View of the Ben Franklin Parkway from the top|
of City Hall
My footsteps echoed as I walked up the stairs under Augustus Saint-Gaudens's Diana with her bow and arrow to visit my favorite art: Fish Magic by Paul Klee. Carnival Evening by Rousseau. John Singer Sargent's Luxembourg Gardens. Van Gogh's Sunflowers.
I remembered when we brought Chris to the museum and how he was so interested in Salvador Dali's Soft Construction with Boiled Beans (Premonition of Civil War) and having to explain it to an eighteen-month-old.
I returned home to Gary and Chris, excited for the next big adventure waiting for us, but knowing that Philadelphia had left its mark on me.
Views of the City
I saw your familiar yet unnamed face
flicker across the movie screen’s blank stare
and every image burned with recollected stain
the wall-writings, the liter,
the detached reflected city streets
in the towered window’s glare.
diesel perfume and urine-soaked stair,
the rapid rush of walkers
going somewhere, anywhere,
with intense vengeance.
The panhandler’s challenge, the derelict’s sleep
on steamy subway grate, the wind
whipping down manufactured canyons
with a whirlwind of refuse.
And yet among all this came creeping
the quiet vacuum
where small things took root:
the flower of a fountain,
the square of sycamore where a child played,
the balanced architecture of a hopeful past,
violin strings slicing air,
you were also this, and more----
A dreamed, racial memory,
the place where my ancestors first came ashore,
when baffled, tongueless, full of faith
they sought new life in a foreign place.
Recalled, my first view of you,
driving down the river’s gorge,
your ancient dead saluting on the far hill,
gleaming white in spring’s green leaves;
passing Eakin’s famous bridge,
turning our eyes to the temple
rising over falling water
where I would learn to worship
the craft of human hands
and mortal imagination.
Distancing the parkway,
flag-full and fountain-embraced,
until reaching your heartbeat,
the clash of ages
where generations of Calders and Rouse meet.
In that disconsonance, I knew
I’d returned to the home
I’d always dreamt I’d find.
I gave you my best years.
And you, you stamped your imprint
on my most tender and childish being.
Here I viewed the extremes humanity can achieve:
where the lame led the blind,
and the powerful bomb the children of the disinherited,
and subway tunnels echo with solemn saxophone songs,
and shop windows beckon entrance
into organ-filled halls.
I memorized your every aspect and view,
walked you from South Street’s decay
to Kensington’s skeleton-lined avenues,
I knew your markets and your alleys.
The light-filled rationality of Christ Church
to the Occidental streets behind the Chinese gate.
I have been damaged
as by sunlight too bright,
too well observed,
and no one understands here
in this peninsular Midwest,
what I have seen
and what it meant
or why I dream of you yet.