Beltaine, Malcolm X Day and Mother's Day

Philly is stealing my heart.

First off, Mother’s Day is a big deal. I like that. I’m staying in West Philly across from Malcolm X Park, which I’ll get to more in a minute. It’s not the most posh neighborhood by any means, 52nd street is a barren landscape of litter, a lot of closed storefronts, wailing sirens and bus traffic and random lone thin people hunched over, not spiffed up in any way, heading somewhere, maybe home or to their cousin’s place, I dunno.  A lot of times it’s an old woman hauling a poke of groceries. But frugal as folks here need to live to get comfortable by, hearts were busting out on Mother’s Day. It seemed that even the most malnourished pulled together resources for balloons and flowers, proudly presenting them to Mama. People were still wishing me Happy Mother’s Day two days later. Sincerely wishing it.

Malcolm X Day was just two days before. In Malcom X Park musicians and poets took to the stage, vendors offered colorful wares. Someone taped quotes of Malcolm X on every bench. In case you can't read this one, it says: People involved in revolution don't become part of the system; they destroy the system. So of course, I wasn't sure what the vibe there might be. Or even whether I'd be welcome.

But it was a gentle one. As usual, there were really nice people about, the kind Mister Rogers called "the helpers." His mother told him when he was a small child and overwhelmed by stressful scenes to always look for "the helpers" and he would find them. Someone was offering free ipads and iphones to the income eligible who were interested. I sat with him on his insistence. I didn't think I'd qualify, but he wanted to try. So I had a chance to talk with a lady who stopped by, thanking him again for the ipad she'd received last year. She couldn’t talk it up enough, and then was thrilled to find out that she’s got a few year warranty on it too, though it works just fine now. These helpers are scattered about the city. Last week I met a man who collects clothes in the park every Wednesday and sends them to somewhere in Africa. He just had all of these black bags he was trying to organize spread across the benches. Sometimes people set up in the pavilion at Malcolm X Park and cook hot dogs and give them out.

It’s the little things. You are ever aware of the problems, serious ones like fentanyl and gangs and anger and guns, and a day doesn’t pass that one doesn’t hear someone exploding in anger, often couples and that’s kind of interesting as long as you are a safe distance away. I like to listen to the intonations. Sometimes they’re a bit too sharp, but mostly the voices here have a depth to the timbre, and I like to pretend that I’m listening to musical notes rather than words. Maybe that’s what they hear at some level as they ruthlessly call each other out. At other moments, someone flying solo just loses it. You can almost feel his wound tearing across the air, and he splits open, roaring with rage.

I mean, we all get that. We understand the possibility. I sometimes hear parts of myself in the maniacal rail. It echoes again and again against the buildings.

No one looks at those people, the ones who explode with rage and decry the world. That’s one of my favorite things about being in a city when a nearby tenuous person goes off the rails. No one feeds into it. That’s how you survive in the city. Don’t open yourself up to crazies. Still, the sidewalk scene seems surreal to me each time. Everyone is suddenly an ace playactor, remaining expressionless, like the ogre’s cries are simply not part of our soundtrack. Even though they dominate. 

Mayhap everyone is not play acting. There’s a time and a place for earbuds, and the city can be one. I’m not comfortable wearing mine all of the time as I feel like I need to be more alert, but other times I feel that whatever happens might be better to confront with a cool song in my head. And whether you are drowning in your music or just listening to the traffic, I mean there’s everything here, squealing trains, harumphing tucks, nonstop cars and motorcycles, buses, helicopters, and birds, there are a lot of birds singing, there is generally this groovy kind of love weaving through, super noticeably here and there, and gorgeous flowers in the most unlikeliest of places.

The contrasts are mind-blowing. Did I post a video of the Kensington district? And mention that with the mayor trying to break it up, the lost are wandering into the labyrinth of the city to join the other homeless? Sometimes the trash everywhere is just too much, especially where it blows along with grit across dreary concrete expanses. The businesses have all collapsed, except the pawn shop with a lone man crouched in front of it high on something. Yet another person heads directly toward you, begging you for a dollar. If not that, then change. Sometimes it’s just hard to keep an even keel.

But then as I said, there’s that pervasive pleasantness. I’d barely turned the doorknob when the garishly painted door in front of me opened, and a woman leaving the ma and pop store loomed over me, in a white beribboned hat, mannish dark shades and mauve lipstick, a stark contrast to her burnished teak skin, let out a hearty laugh shaking her skeleton as she looked me up and down, in my entirely different costume: Aladdin pants, a Phillies t-shirt, gold and flame cat-eye shades and a cowgirl hat. “Yo, Mama," her voice was thick and deep, as she nodded approvingly. "You’re looking good!”

Check out the blog post with the photo of the hat store for some fashion ideas. 

I adore these women from my neighborhood here, and I see them in this painting. See their spirit within it, that is. The implication is pretty witchy, in my mind a plus. Not sure if you can make out the words, but basically there is a lady painted on the brick wall, about to use her coat as a flying cape, and her shadow a bit further down and off to the right, a distinct entity really, and the script reads: As I use my power to travel the skies, I'll always remember to come back to you.

Romantic, but also a mother's sentiment.

 Here are a few more of these Philly women, using their power.

Sashaying downtown.


Here are the remnants of the Beltaine festival at Clark Park, a few days after May Day. It is a huge relief to me that Caucasians are in a minority here. Not only is the homogeneity diluted, but the authentic nature of our mother nation, a melting pot from the get-go can more readily bubble through without frowning dogma and bigotry laced with money to push it back down.  The folk heroes on their fancy white low-rider double-wide motorcycles own the freeways, then the boulevards, blaring rap for the entire city to hear, safely delivering its culture, and they won’t be assassinated. Druids dancing around the maypole won’t be lynched or stoned in Clark Park. Homosexuals can hold hands. Those older guys blasting a boom box and spinning tall tales at the diamond of Catherine Street and Baltimore Avenue near the little free library I visit, won’t be silenced.

And honestly, I need to be around this sort of intelligence or I get depressed.


I like to look up not knowing whether I might see... 

                       an angel...

                       a devil...

   or an accordian player!

Yeah, Philly is stealing my heart.