Preliminary Sketches: Philadelphia

“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, www.graywolfpress.org.
Source: The Venus Hottentot (Graywolf Press, 2004)
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