Preliminary Sketches: Philadelphia

By Elizabeth Alexander b. 1962 Elizabeth Alexander

“I saw a friend from growing up who’s been
living in L.A. for about twenty years, and I
heard him say, ‘I’m from L.A.,’ and I said,
‘No, man, you from Philly. We don’t give
nobody up.’”
—Khan Jamal
jazz vibraphonist

Fish-man comes with trout and fresh crabs:
“Live! They live crabs! They live crabs!”
Bars called “Watutsi.” “Pony-Tail.”

A dark green suit, a banded hat.
The gentleman buys pig’s feet and
papaya juice. He looks like church.

Another man, down Spruce Street, says,
“Yeah, California’s beautiful,
but I ain’t got no people there,

so I came back. I raised a racehorse.
Trainer says he’s mean, but I say
naw, naw. That horse just alive.”

Which way to walk down these tree streets
and find home cooking, boundless love?
Double-dutching on front porches,

men in sleeveless undershirts.
I’m listening for the Philly sound—
Brother            brother            brotherly love.

Elizabeth Alexander, "Preliminary Sketches: Philadelphia" from The Venus Hottentot. Copyright © 1990 by the Rectors and Visitors of the University of Virginia. Reprinted by permission of Graywolf Press. Graywolf Press, St. Paul, Minnesota,

Source: The Venus Hottentot (Graywolf Press, 2004)

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Poet Elizabeth Alexander b. 1962

Subjects Relationships, Social Commentaries, Life Choices

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Elizabeth  Alexander


Elizabeth Alexander was born in Harlem, New York, but grew up in Washington, DC, the daughter of former United States Secretary of the Army and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission chairman, Clifford Alexander Jr. She holds degrees from Yale, Boston University, and the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned her PhD. She is currently a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and the inaugural Frederick Iseman . . .

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SUBJECT Relationships, Social Commentaries, Life Choices

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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