March Forth, My Friends

​MARCH FORTH, MY FRIENDS
We assemble for a friend’s birthday party and it doesn’t take me long to realize all of these friends I’ve made over the years come from completely different backgrounds and schoolings with one main defining similarity. 

They are all farmers.

These friends I’ve connected with for all sorts of reasons, when it comes right down to it, enjoy nothing more than putting their hands in the dirt and making seeds come to life.

So here we are, sitting in a circle discussing a variety of tools from permaculture and the changing growing seasons, as well as what native seeds we got at the most recent seed trade and how owned land is hard to come by, so making due with squatting on abandoned land works just as well.
As the conversation moves into a reaction towards regressive politicians, the night begins to take on the look and feel of a general assembly. And as I look around me, I realize the free radicals around me are all regenerative agriculturalists. These guerilla warriors are planting corn where a rowhome burned down 20 years ago and garbage has been disposed of since.

They’re the people on the frontlines of every protest, dressed in all black, taking cracks from the policeman’s billy club. 

They’re the clowns in the background raising spirits.

In all of this, they’re the ones making moves when a lot of us feel frozen. Urban gardeners continuing to prepare for the apocalypse.
Their gardens are the next to be lost. In this city, like every city, that cares more about tax revenue than moderating development to make sure developers keep in tune with the identity of the neighborhood they rape and pillage, green space is running out.

These gardeners have already lawyered up, organized petitions, and cut locks to keep their gardens operating. Food For The People are words of revolution for them.

A day later, I’m in the streets of my old neighborhood. I’m playing trumpet in a New Orleans style death march for a cat that passed away only recently. We’re all dressed in shiny, psychedelic costumes from Mummers parades past. Some of us have drums, kazoos, fireworks and other noisemakers.

The march starts with somber notes. Slow and cold we fill the street, holding a walking vigil. I feel like I’m playing a melody that is for the death of my old home in East Kensington. We pass shoddily built condos. $450,000 4-story megahomes. They’re all ugly behemoths atop streets full of sinkholes and cracked concrete. I remember all the former lots, the former community gardens, the weird art sculptures, and the grounds we had pop up music shows in.

Some of us are weeping. A lot of us are feeling glad to feel this warmth of community. We bury the cat and our leader who is part Cherokee sings a song of returning the earth to its former glory. Encouraging the grass to grow where the burial mound now is.
A neighbor overhears one of us discussing how shitty her giant condo is. She yells, “Hey, I heard that. I heard you saying that about my house.” Drunk, the guy says he doesn’t care. He can’t wait till it falls down in three years.

There’s a lot of tension and I think to myself, “Welcome to Philly.”

Someone does eventually say, “Welcome to the neighborhood.”
At that we start marching again. This time the melodies are upbeat and raucous. “Oh when the saints…go marching in….oh when the saints go marching in.”
There are a lot of drum break downs and horn solos and the band starts singing as their followers join in dancing. 
Eventually we make it back to the house party for March Fourth.
“March Forth,” everyone yells.
A simple parade. Perhaps the beginning of new traditions.

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March Forth, My Friends

Street Theater

STREET THEATER
(artwork by Dylan A.T. Miner)

I envision a mass demonstration. Folks coming into the heart of the city. Riding trains and bicycles. Assembling near City Hall. Tens of thousands. Maybe more. Each with their own sign rallying around the cause. A cause for the world and its children. A cause for Life. Love for us All.

They begin to march.

There are trumpets, sounding the alarm. Drum circles leading the charge. Movement in rhythmic motion forward.

They march onto the avenues. Hold traffic till tomorrow. Heading straight for the Liberty Bell inside Independence Hall.

Unnerved by routine, they only settle here for a while. Then they continue further. Marching north. And then west. And then south. Into the stars. Above the ground. Their souls’ chants echo against the concrete walls. Each footstep causes a groundswell.

Eventually the whole city is taken over. The working crowd leaving their offices and joining the march. Tourists and other pedestrians going along for the ride. People swept off their feet and into the current.

It all seems smooth and victorious, except for what awaits for them just beyond the next traffic light.

Near Rittenhouse, a tank is just around the corner. It’s a big tank. One of the largest and greatest tanks. A tank greater than any other made before. A tank made of cardboard and painted black. Recyclables turned into the war machine. Its motor singing the finale of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture as it rolls forward. Its wheels at least twenty pairs of boots belonging to its drivers marching a synchronized beat.

Led by the tank is an army of clowns. Bum clowns. Circus clowns. Awkward and Weird clowns. Fascist clowns. Merry Pranksters dressed in Federalist regalia. Minstrels of mummery dressed in the cultures they’ve conquered. Clowns in White Face. Clowns in Black Face. The Blue Man Group wooping like car alarms. Scary clowns. Nasty clowns. Jerk clowns. Clowns of the sewers. Clowns of the pipelines. Clowns of the pulpit and the banks. Hundreds of clowns following the tank.

At their back is the main cheese. The King Clown himself surrounded by a dozen or more head honcho Court Jesters. A cabinet as insane as it can get. In turn, all of them holding onto multiple leads. Hundreds of strings attached to the army’s heads and legs and feet and arms and hearts. Puppet masters and their marionettes.

The two parades meet on Walnut Street. Outside the Barnes and Noble. Clowns and Lovers and a whole city of park sitters, random shoppers, and luxurious apartment residents watching the scene.

At first there is a standoff. Neither side so sure of the other. The Clowns glaring pure terror, while the Lovers can’t help but laugh. But then someone turns up Tchaikovsky’s overture and the tank starts firing shots. Large balls of confetti shoot into the air. The cannon balls synced up to the music, firing like the Russians against Napoleon did.

At first nothing. Then people start dropping. Then finally pure absolute terror and the people not already on the ground start running out of the way.

Soon, everyone has either been knocked down by the tank, or been completely scattered onto sidewalks and out of the street.

All except for a single child.
They stand there upright. Not much older than 7 or 8. A short pixie cut with rainbow streaks in their hair. A young girl holding a heart-shaped balloon in one hand, while the other is extended forward offering a rose.

Tiananmen Square. A stencil drawn by the street artist Banksy. Zuccotti Park. Tahrir Square and so many others. These images are all brought to mind in this single gesture.

The tank silences.
The clowns mime surprise and awe.
They begin to step forward, maybe to snatch the girl up, and then they stop.
The child starts whistling.
They step forward towards the cannon on top of the tank.
The gun lowers down just in arms reach.
The child places the rose into its barrel.

A GOP official from Michigan wants another Kent State? Well, this is how Love overcomes Hate.

The Clowns all fall to their knees. Even the King. They bow to this child and the girl giggles relief.
One of the clowns brings forward a bucket of paint.
The child takes the brush and walks forward to the tank to paint it.

Behind them, others begin to rise from the pavement. They too come forward and begin to paint. Soon folks are wandering back onto the street from the sidewalks and joining them from the park and surrounding store fronts. Each person is handed a paintbrush as more buckets are brought out. The once black tank, quickly turns to a canvas of peace signs and rainbows and pretty flowers and moonshine beneath golden rays.

The scene turns from one that is war torn to a community block party. Folks of all ages and nationalities and sexual identities and gender pluralities exploring what it means to rediscover their inner child on the public street.

Someone passes out chalk and they start turning the floor beneath them into a whole other ecology. City streets turned into abundant gardens. Seeds of harmony blossoming. A psychedelia of awakened heart permeates in the breeze. A true rêvelution like never seen anywhere else.
The creative mind united with the heart making communal art.
A band sets up on the band stand. They play punk choruses like it’s the 1980s and everyone begins to dance.

At this point, the King Clown has let go of the leads or even begun to cut the strings and the Clowns are suddenly allowed to be truly free.

It starts with the King Clown’s Head of Interior. Then the Department of Education soon follows. Soon it’s the Attorney General. And his self-declared Head of Intelligence. They each grab at the tank. The cardboard beginning to tear. Where it tears, they rip harder, until each piece breaks free.

The other Clowns get a hint and join in this disassembly. Each taking a piece and ripping the tank to shreds.
The painted pieces are lifted high in the air. Some of them are attached to long sticks to wave in the air. New protest signs. New messages. Simple in their color and slogans. Rainbows spreading. LOVE. PEACE.

The act is almost over.
Everyone is feeling real fine.
For most of them they’re not even sure what’s happening anymore the vibe is so fresh.

And at this brightest moment, it springs up.
Hidden beneath the leftover rubble of the former tank, the BLACK SNAKE.
He emerges.
Dark and stormy.
A hiss as his head pokes high into the air.
Another hiss as he looks downwards on the people suddenly entangled in his long winding and ever-present scales.
A tail so long, it grabs up the people down the street even a mile away.

No one can move. They’re all entranced in his hypnotizing stare.

Except for the King.
The King steps forward. He’s lost his yellow wig. His fat gut. His entire wardrobe, except for the crown. Except for the crown, he now looks less like a monarch, and more like a human. He’s become an old woman actually. He’s grown long hair and tied it back. His court robes have been replaced by a polka dotted dress that reaches down to high heels. His gestures are less oafish and more heart-centered, sensitive. He holds a tall staff in his hand. To some he looks like a mixture somewhere between a wizard, a hippy, and Alice in Wonderland.

He removes the crown. Tosses it into the snake’s mouth.
The snake swallows it whole.
The elder pulls out a tobacco pipe and begins smoking.
The snake slithers closer.
Unfazed, the elder kneels down and touches the earth. People close to him can hear him humming.
The snake hangs overhead and opens its mouth wide.
With the speed of lightning it lowers its head and snaps.
The elder even quicker, places his wooden staff between the roof of the snake’s mouth and its bottom teeth.
Open mouth, it hovers around him, trying to bite, but failing.
In the confusion of it all, the elder grabs the snake’s tongue and pulls.
The snake lurches back, but the elder holds strong and the tongue pulls out of the snake’s head, bringing with it the snake’s black and gooey insides.

The girl from before reemerges. Giggling they join the elder and hold onto the snake’s tongue.
Others wake up from their trance and join them too. Each grabbing a hold of the extending tongue.

The snake still tries to get free pulling back even further. Unraveling as it pulls further and further away, letting more and more of its insides be pulled out.

Its insides go all the way back into history. They go back in time to before then into herstory.
They continue to pull out and suddenly we’re seeing the birth of it all.
Through the snake’s death, we are seeing how it all started.
The rope turns from oil slick to wooden stick to lightning strikes to molten lava.
Everything one can think of that burns and more.
A long fuse leading back into the beginning.
Before time.
Something like the chicken and the egg, philosophically.

At the end of the string is an egg.
Inside the egg is water.
The water is clear and pure.

From one of his dress pockets the Elder pulls out a bag of seeds.
He takes a single seed from the bag and holds it high over his head.
It shimmers gold in the sunlight.
Then he tosses it to the withering shell of the black snake skin beneath him.
He opens the egg and dumps the water onto this fertile earth.

From the point, where he placed the seed, grows a giant rose.

Catharsis.

Street Theater

Vote for Bernie; Tomorrow, June 7th

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Get out and vote!
Tomorrow, June 7 is an extremely important day for our country and for the world around us. California, New Jersey, and New Mexico all have their primaries (as well SD, ND, and MT). Voters have a chance to change the course of our country’s history.

Please friends, go out and vote! Even if you’re like me and have a complete distrust of our “democracy”, this is about the best chance we got to save the world, beyond getting in the streets and protesting every single damn tragedy our capitalist regime has created in it’s 200+ years on this planet.

Bernie Sanders is the only candidate set to hold the crooks on Wall Street accountable. He’s the only one talking to the leaders of our continent’s native nations. He’s the only one who cares about black lives and has demonstrated this by actually getting in the streets and getting arrested for protesting for civil rights, not to mention hiring BLM activists to work to expand the message of his campaign. He’s the only candidate who marched with MLK, or marched at all, ever, on that note. He’s the only candidate who is anti-fracking and will fight for our environment. He’s the only one standing up for immigrants and refugees from foreign, war-torn countries. He’ll fight for women’s lives. He’ll fight for trans lives. I believe unless he’s completely brain-tapped on his first day in office, he’ll fight for activists, since he is one.

On every level the man has been on the right side of history and demonstrated integrity in staying true to his core values. To my friends, he is the better candidate and I believe we can all agree that the world will be a better place with him as president. To my parents and fellow members of an older generation, who have already been let down before by party politics, don’t vote for yourselves…..vote for the next generation and their future. This is the world we have inherited. Let’s work together to make it a better one.

Bernie Sanders is the only candidate carrying a message of Love so strong and connecting so many diverse folks together that it will trump Hate. The polls show this. The rallies show this. His message shows this.

We all need this to happen. I don’t believe the political revolution ends with Bernie Sanders. I believe it starts with us.

Vote for Bernie; Tomorrow, June 7th

Don’t Go With The Flow, Flow With The Go!

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(written while staying in Taos, NM)

Met a poet the other day named John Mason. A real hip cat of a fella. As a poet, still living life as much a student as a teacher. Too young to be a proper beatnik, but spent enough time with that generation. Reciting rhymes. Stories of the road. Lost sweet hearts in New Orleans. Run ins with Nixon. A real mind blower if I ever met one.

He told me this vision of a Beat convention at Naropa in Boulder, Colorado. Circa 1980? Ginsberg, Snyder, Burroughs. All present. Maybe even Jan Kerouac. I swear she wrote about it in her second novel.

John Mason bet his buddy with a bus ticket he could beat him there by hitch hiking. Both traveling from Detroit, Michigan. A real rambler in a time before cell phones. He lost the bet, but only by 4 hours.
First thing he does after arriving in town is ask an organizer about the open mics. Organizer says, “Sorry John. We ain’t thought about that.”

So John goes to city hall, rounds up a bunch of open air venues and bookstores. Comes back and hands a list to the organizer and says, “You got 500 or more poets coming in from all across the world. That’s a whole bunch of folks who should be reading. Here’s a complete list of your open readings and shared microphones for the next three days.”

A real wrangler. Ended up sharing the stage with Bill Burroughs before the convention was over. Got drunk at a party with Harold Norse. Really became a part of the scene.

Then he tells me this other story in lyric form. Recites it from the top of his head as if it were sitting on the page in front of him. A real epic if I ever heard one. Stole the cadence from Rudyard Kipling. Story starts with a taste of a 4 way window pane before setting out on the road. Thumbs a ride somewhere near Chicago and gets picked up by a normal looking guy and his wife. Before him, the road animated like a crystalized quartz jewel opening wide.

The driver seems wise to his plight. Strikes up a conversation about civil disobedience, riots, and the holy NOW. John Mason didn’t hesitate a moment, jumping right into this philosophical diatribe. The holy NOW is what really caught him most and my retelling won’t do it justice. You’ll have to talk to John Mason yourself for any sort of clarity, because see, it ends up this driver and his wife are somewhat scholars of sufi-mystics. They’d practiced the Tao and read up on Zen. So with all John Mason’s spirit leaning towards hippy activism, they had a response for him that seemed to intuit doing nothing.

But here’s where the argument changes. There is a moment of clairvoyance. Before you know it the driver’s tossing out a new mantra that a whole generation could get behind.
And this is the real mindblower. Both for John and for me in his retelling.

The driver, he says, “John, don’t go with the flow, man. The only thing I ever saw go with the flow was a dead fish floating down the river.” He says. “See, John. You gotta learn to flow with the go, man. There ain’t no other way about it.”

And right there, John Mason’s mind on acid tips right into a new direction. And here I am in the 21st century, having the same reaction.

Don’t go with the flow, man.
The only thing that ever did that was a dead fish.
Instead you gotta flow with the go.
That’s the real way to find enlightenment.

Don’t Go With The Flow, Flow With The Go!

The Voice of Marshall

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I don’t usually share these memories, but 6 years ago today I read at my first poetry reading. It was the beginning of my 3rd year in Philadelphia. I had just moved to VWVOFFKA, a house gallery my friends had started a few months before. My friend Jenna Wilchinsky hosted VWVOFFKA’s first ever Word Exchange, with some featured poets from Temple University. I think both Masha Badinter and Jenna had collaborated on the name for this event which would eventually become a series at the house, and I would eventually carry into describing any reading I would host around town (recently I noticed Little Berlin, another gallery I put a few years into, started using the same phrase to describe a monthly reading series they’ve been hosting in the Annex Space. Ha! It’s a good phrase!).

I was 23. The writing I was putting to paper was part of a novel called The Voice of Wye Gnough, a story about a lonely, angsty twenty-something named Michael Cavendish and this sage-like, acid-wine drinking, bum savant that he keeps seeing at Le Bar named Wye Gnough. The story wasn’t very good and mostly about a recent short-lived relationship, I was still dealing with the fall out from. I was young (or well, I was younger).

The other poets were well-versed, maybe a little bit rehearsed and generally inside the same crit class together, so all pretty aware of each other’s writing and all the inside jokes / meta language they were using. I don’t remember what they read, but I remember they smoked cigarettes while they read and as they finished each poem, they threw the page to the ground.

I had never read my work out loud before and I didn’t really know what I was doing. WHY-NO, a performance art act I did that involved drinking wine and banging on the emptying jugs of it and singing angst-ridden songs of desolation, was still fresh in my mind so I brought my omnichord. I strummed chords to keep the words rolling off my tongue. This is kind of funny looking back at because one idea I had for this last tour of reading haikus was to bring a casio keyboard along (the same one I used during WHY-NO days) and play tunes between each haiku. Obviously WHY-NO still has a hold on my imagination.

This was pre-erotica (I didn’t start writing that till the following year after traveling to Paris, Madrid, and Barcelona while reading Delta of Venus by Anais Nin). It was pre-travel fiction (I had traveled some, but not found my voice in the road just yet). I think people received my short stories alright. I think I might’ve been the only one who read short stories. But the most interesting thing was that I heard my own voice for the very first time.

I have written since I was 16 or 17, with actively thinking myself a writer, and even longer without. But this was the first time I heard the words outside my own head. I heard how the sentences didn’t flow exactly the way I predicted them too. I listened to how some droned on as huge mouthfuls where I would run out of breath. And others didn’t get the reaction I desired. A laugh. Or a sigh of awe.

I think I had what I thought was a poetry voice to make things sound more intricate. Really it was to cover up my nervousness. I think it involved several gin n’ tonics. It was the beginning of a few year period where I slurred my words and thought there was magic in how garbled they rolled.

This was the reading where I met Willow Zef (then Jozef Maguire). He had passed by our store front window and seen what he correctly thought was a poetry reading, though I probably corrected him at some point and said, “Nah, man. It’s a word exchange.” Disagreement has always been an interesting part of our friendship. It’s helped me explore new parts of myself I didn’t know were there to have this other contrasting perspective in one of my close friends. 6 years ago, he stepped up and read and he taught me the value of beat and recitation, through these almost hip hop inspired, magically real verses he would rattle off his chest without any verse in front of him.

A month or two later, I would meet Augustus Depenbrock at one of these word exchanges, a week or so before the first ever Plato’s Porno Cave (a surreal gala that we eventually collaborated on for several years) held in his warehouse loft space, and Gus would perform the most interesting, off the cuff recitation of a Bukowski poem about a radio thrown through a window, I’ve ever heard. From him I would learn repetition and the value of controlling the tone of voice.

I would meet other folks like Scott Bickmore and Cipro that year at further Word Exchanges. And folks like Keri Hansen, in who I would find a friend to share inspiration with. She’d share with me writers that I should read, and in that way constantly push my expression. She’d also be the final voice to complete the group that would write a literary blog, Top 5 Fingers, which involved me, Gus, Zef, and a friend from college, Alana Franasiak. That year I would even host the writer of the La La Theory and White Elephants zines, who I’d admired for a long time, Katie Haegale. And in somewhat a different direction, that would be the year I would lose the first person to ever call me “brother”, Mike Hall. His death still carrying it’s weight for me every November, leaving me lost and longing, but also giving me a better sense of the value of life and how fragile it can sometimes be.

I read The Voice of Wye Gnough several more times over the year. Each time I’d read, I’d find new things I liked and many more I disliked. I started to write new chapters and rewrite old ones with the sound of my voice in mind. Back then I mostly wrote on a typewriter I bought for 10 dollars on the side of the road in North Philly. Each time I read, I paid more attention to the sound of the words. But The Voice of Wye Gnough wasn’t quite right yet. Some of it was unsalvageable to this new style I was finding. This new voice that was increasingly my own.

Eventually, I would scrap the novel because of its jumbled sentences and lack of true development. One of the last times I would read from it, Gus would actually light some of the pages on fire. It was New Years. A celebration in the second house for VWVOFFKA to pop up in, two blocks north on the road. The same building where Little Baby’s Ice Cream now resides. In the basement, was the first home of the Dream Oven. I watched and admired the flames, but then I realized I had no idea which pages Gus was reading from and whether they were any good or not.

I yelled out, “Gus! That’s typewritten. I don’t have any copies!”

The pages turned to smoke and ash and went out on the floor and I had to accept they were gone. Part of me accepted it was better that way. The remaining pages I put in a box somewhere and taped shut, maybe a month or two later.

If I had never read poetry that year, I would’ve never found my voice. Even more importantly, I would have never found my writing community.

Now six years later, I’ve just completed my second poetry tour across the country. I’ve found and been reinvigorated in the magic that spoken words hold. They can be healing. They inspire others. They create a sense of connection that maybe some other forms of expression can’t quite match. There’s a vulnerability in them. There’s definitely a catharsis.

It’s interesting to perceive how short a time six years are, relatively, between then and now. It’s interesting to examine how much growth, I’ve had personally and where I’m at as a writer today. And even more so to see all the growth in my peers. To see all of the many good vibes we’ve brought ourselves through. It’s amazing to think of all the things we’ve created together.

The creative life is a beautiful one. The Voice of Wye Gnough was an attempt at telling a story of it. Of our generation. Even back then I was calling us all Dream Punks. But it came up short. It failed miserably.

One day, hopefully soon, I’ll finish that first novel, though, and tell the story of the incredible scene I’ve been brought up in.

The Voice of Marshall

A Return to Philadelphia

A return to Philadelphia is one of those bitter sweet type of things.

The sweetness comes from the people there and the community in which I thrived for so long in. Without them I would not have developed into who I am or had the confidence to reach for the stars. There are memories of the madness I played with in a house all on my lonesome that I could barely afford the rent for and all the various manifestations previous to that and all of those that have spiraled out from there within. And there’s still the same people there, I could leave for ten years and still come back to them, just chugging along and building new ideas and installations and always partying in a belligerent fashion, which is kind of endearing and even especially intoxicating when personally in the same sort of mental state, myself. They tell me of their successes and their continually growing creative careers and the new spaces they have occupied and the recycling of old failed institutions into more progressive active ones.

And now there seems to be even more of a populace, which keeps growing everywhere you look, beyond that old, small tight-knit community which held hands when they played out in the dark. And there are all these new faces (I guesstimate probably from Brooklyn) walking around, jogging around, gallivanting around, in places where only two years ago I wouldn’t have seen anyone. And they seem unaware of the history of the city streets they tread upon and the violence that one used to encounter there or how this city is still a tough place for a lot of long time residents. And yet they’re attracted to the even more seemingly endless supplies of beer gardens and gastropubs that who knows who can really afford to drink at, at least not on a typical Philly wage, and who knows who can really afford to pop up, but I suspect again Brooklyn, because well, Stephen Starr had to eventually max out in Fishtown, sometime, right? And the refuse is still building up with plastic bags blowing in the wind and catching in the potholes of an infrastructure that I’ve seen the city dig and fill and redig and fill in and repeat for at least half a decade in the exact same places because seemingly they can’t find a utility company that’ll get it right the first time.

But there right there is the bitterness and this comes back in a landslide, though I’m newly capable of letting it go, since I no longer live in it on a day to day. It’s the same story I’ve seen everywhere I’ve traveled to in the country, but here it’s so much more personal. A city begins to resurge with a creative population, and that attracts developers who only want to make money by shipping in the young business class who a majority of doesn’t have any interest in going out and seeing the culture offered by their new city residence, and this cycle spreads outward like a disease quickly eradicating first the people who grew up in these neighborhoods, then the artists that were good for some real estate company’s next press release. And all the time the rent keeps going up while the wages stay the same and it starts to seem almost impossible that anyone can afford the time or heart to keep on going.

I start to remember how for years I started to feel chased out of my own city, always being pushed a block at a time north until finally even that started filling up and the anarchy of the emptiness here that attracted me here in the first place was all completely being swallowed up. And the first thing to be said in a conversation by every one of my friends that I run into now is how quickly all the abandoned lots are filling up with new construction plots and even the mega lots, which no one thought would ever sell, are being sucked up by these unknown developers and their makeshift cookie-cutter town homes. The tears come out in all our eyes over the trees, the urban wilderness, the community gardens that have all been sacrificed to “progress”, and we count on our fingertips all the places where we played pop-up outdoor psych rock shows that are now a 4-5 story condo.

It’s not the actual development, I think, that burns people out so much. It’s the seeming mismanagement of the whole thing. There is no community involvement in the process. Yes, the neighborhood associations have the power to veto a new project, but the developers can use any number of loopholes to bypass that process, as long as they have some local council in their pocket. And the votes are always about approving some project, but not about telling the developer to keep some trees or front yards or some type of greenery when they’re building atop their mudpits and not to make them so tall or so ugly and skinny. And to make them blend in, not stick out. To make them use the same materials that makes Fishtown look like it has some history.

How many people have time to attend their neighborhood meetings anyway. And when are they allowed to voice a simple “Hey, maybe this is happening too quick for a typical human’s consciousness and maybe we should cut new construction down to maybe one home a month, as opposed to the hundred or so that keep popping up every other day”.

I think the main thing that effects people is the quickly shrinking amount of green space, which was always limited in Philly’s urban sprawl anyway, but in most places got squatted on and turned into a surreal artist’s wonderland to prevent illegal dumping and provide other good intentions. To add injury to insult all the jack hammers, drills, and mechanized sounds of things being built or demolished start at 7am and reverberate all through each city block so that one has to go all the way to Graffiti Pier to get away from hearing it.

And we all have our memories of what is now dead. The Frankford Ave. Arts Corridor is now about twenty boutiques and a few vape shops that who knows how they manage to stay open or who’s their target audience. Girard Ave. is an attempt at the next Old City with all demographics South Jersey filling it’s streets with their entitlement. Northern Liberties at this point is unrecognizable. And in all these place there’s a cloud of despair and hopelessness that hangs heavy over the social climate there. It’s the threat of too much change in a weekday, and the threat that next week it’ll be too expensive to still even live there.

But then the sweetness comes back. It’s Saturday night and a new warehouse gallery celebrates its second exhibition. Familiar faces come and take glimpses of the post-modern ceramics placed around the white rectangle. Some friends are stronger than myself and more willing to adapt to the constant flux of a city in its post-Renaissance days. They have played musical chairs long enough to resettle in places better than their last. Some are even buying property and digging in, making sure they can continue to have some sort of autonomy.

The room is full to the brim and everyone’s a little worried that something will break, and though no one in attendance has any money to throw any which way other than to refill their Natty Bo can, the artist and the curators receive the attention and good vibed support that an underground art community always should be able to offer. There’s the typical Philly modesty or lack of imagination, but with 100 people stuffed into a tiny salon, and maybe another 100 more passing through, it’s very easy to make comparisons between the scene of this community and any historical community of any favorite art celebrity, whether from NYC or Los Angeles or even Paris. It takes you back to times when things were less dictated by money and more inspired by passion and artistic eccentricity.

And that’s where Philly is at today. The Renaissance there that started several years ago is digging in deep, and even with all of the unsettling of the constant developments reseting the neighborhoods and their urban landscapes, the artists don’t seem to be getting wiped out any time soon, only regrouping and popping up in new places or old places with new agendas. It’s only a matter of time before they become conscious of their own capabilities, and begin to mobilize and redirect the flow of all that residential developing back to a more creative anarchy.

And who knows, maybe all that new money in the hood will soon learn to do more than Netflix And Chill and start to look around them too, and begin to buy in to something like a city’s cultural history.

A Return to Philadelphia

The Flight of the Crow

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It’s amazing how quickly one can skip across the country. One day acting a fool in the desert of Joshua Tree, the next day climbing desert mountains until finally i’m crossing the border of New Mexico and diving through colors so grand the sky is like nirvana unimaginable (to think some people see this every day and think nothing of it), then pulling over and sleeping in Pueblo ruins alongside ghosts of an old alien culture that transformed themselves long ago into the crows that follow my car to every rest stop and grand vista pull off. They bark at me loud orders and i think of something my friend Mariana said about how they signify that i’m going to say things that people won’t like. I see them as elders and they guide my dreams. I’m on a heist like in the old westerns, only somehow i’ve conned a moving company out of a truck loaded with gold money and with a crew we’re driving out of the city. I’m swimming in a lake of liquid lava and out of the flames of my own body a falcon rips to the surface soaring over us with red and purple colors streaking the skies behind her. I make love to a beatnik princess and after lovemaking we talk about the change of guard and how someday we’ll settle in the country and grow our own food but first we’ll make love more in our dreams together.

Did I tell you about how I followed two crows around in Joshua Tree? I was dashing through some boulders and moon temples and I heard one of them cawing but they kept flying further out of reach until finally I hiked through some arches and out of a wash to a clearer view of the mountain where they were gliding around. They cawed to me so I started climbing. The sides of the mountain were exploding with fragments of rose quartz as I got higher and at the peak I found a few dozen rock balances from past wanderers. Now the crows were below me and I slowly descended to where they sat laughing and pruning their feathers atop a giant round boulder kind of like a skull. They let me walk right up to them and they just sat there staring at me. Now was my turn to make silly noises so I howled and wooped  and yahooed as much as I could think to. Here’s where it echoed, surprisingly out into the valley and I wondered how, when I was so high and the ground so far away. It drove me practically crazy and I kept testing it. My woop followed by seconds of delay and then it coming back to me faintly almost as if my ears were playing tricks on me. The crows just stared at me some more, slightly alarmed but more just blase. I think they were just surprised to be cawed at by this silly ape below them. Not usually used to anyone paying attention to their own voices. Eventually they flew off and I caught one on film for a future TV installation. Cute couple gliding away and back into the boulders to bother some other tourist.

I wake in the morning and I’m as cold as a ghost myself with frost permeating from my blue lips and caking on the tent ceiling. I watch the sunrise and watch her colors streak all across the sky evenly filling it with the fire of my dreams. I do a quick sun salutation but i’m shivering like a wild man so I pack up and take the Willie Jeep route and head for Santa Fe grabbing at the sage brush with my hand held outstretched through the open window. The crows are around every bend, but i’m not paying attention to them anymore as the Rio Grande grows into a Grand Canyon beside me. Eventually there are snow covered mountains, Pueblo ruins, and painted canyons on every horizon. I pass Santa Fe (thinking of my friends there, bummed to miss them) and roll up to Taos taking the main street in, happy to see nothing has changed. I park at the Spot Cafe where all my last adventures began, and immediately feel like a wanderer returned home from the season of travels. Here a pretty punk chick smiles at me as I enter and an old hippy lady tells me, “Oh, number 11. That’s  a good number. The number for ‘peace’ in the I Ching.” when I receive my number for my breakfast sandwich. There’s a group sitting in the doorway and they remind me of everything I love about people in the mountains. Earthy vibes, with a little bit of elfish wonderment,  but here there’s also the vibe of the desert rat and a wild-eyed hippiness that got here 50 years ago and got so excited they stripped off all their clothes and dove right in. Soon i’m basking in hot springs, letting everything around me drift away and loosing my sense of identity. That flow of the earth breaking away at whatever worries I may have for heading home. Soon i’ll spend time with friends of the heart that I made the last time I drove through here. And then from there tomorrow I’ll make the last dash for the east where more friends and a series of readings awaits me.

The Flight of the Crow