Along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway


In the city, you learn when to breathe. You learn when to hold your breath.

You learn not to breathe when you pass that homeless man sleeping on a bench beneath the flag of New Zealand on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, that mile-long boulevard connecting Love Park with the Philadelphia Art Museum, yes, that same museum where Rocky Balboa charged up all those stairs. Today you will find people of all ages and races running up those steps before turning back to pump their arms in triumph while smiling friends snap pictures to keep the memory alive. You can even buy a tee shirt from the man who hangs out at the Rocky statue.

But we're done at the Art Museum. We're heading back. We're approaching that man sleeping upon the park bench beneath the flag of New Zealand.

Know that you will taste him, if you don't hold your breath. You will feel him settle upon your tongue like the stale communion host you had this morning in church. You will taste urine and body odor and hopelessness.

Even in your innocence, you will taste guilt.


You will wonder why he sleeps upon that bench.

You will feel anger.

You might be afraid—no, not of him, but of possibilities and the loss of good fortune.

Rest assured, you will forget him: As you head towards Love Park, you will be distracted by a noisy, colorful parade and the people there—the happy people dancing and singing; clapping and waving to the crowd—will cause you to forget the man sleeping upon the park bench beneath the flag of New Zealand along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

But reminders are everywhere.

The beggar woman sits every day outside the Reading Terminal Market. As you approach, you will study her long, gray hair, her thick and dimpled thighs, her tarnished folding chair. You will want to reach for your camera, to capture the way she sits with her head cast down, her arms crossed against her chest. As you enter the market, you hear her mumble words that no one understands.

You will push inside the doors. Only then, will you breathe.

You will be jostled about by cheerful shoppers in search of fresh tomatoes; homemade soap smelling of roses and lavender; Amish chow chow; coffee, locally roasted. You will celebrate your good fortune in finding the farrmer from Lancaster who sells organic grapes from the hundred year old vineyard that twists along the Appalachian Trail. You will take joy in the dirt beneath his fingernails: here is a true steward of the land. You will listen to his story about a father, one hundred and four years old; an eighty-three year old brother; thirteen siblings in all. You will marvel at his vitality.

You will tell him that you've been looking for organic grapes for six months, to make a levain—a starter for the bread you wish to bake in your pretty suburban home. He will tell you that wild crab apples are best, but that the grapes are a good second choice. He will point out the white yeast that covers the grapes; the yeast that you've been seeking for six months.

You will buy two pints of organic white grapes and watch as the farmer carefully cradles them into a white plastic bag. You will hold that bag of grapes to your nose and inhale deeply and the scent will spread over your tongue like jelly or perhaps communion wine.

And as you exit the market, you will pass the beggar woman sitting outside. You will clutch your bag of organic grapes even tighter about the neck, hoping that the beggar woman won't breathe upon your precious cargo.




Labels: , , ,

Writing in the Margins, Bursting at the Seams: Along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway


In the city, you learn when to breathe. You learn when to hold your breath.

You learn not to breathe when you pass that homeless man sleeping on a bench beneath the flag of New Zealand on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, that mile-long boulevard connecting Love Park with the Philadelphia Art Museum, yes, that same museum where Rocky Balboa charged up all those stairs. Today you will find people of all ages and races running up those steps before turning back to pump their arms in triumph while smiling friends snap pictures to keep the memory alive. You can even buy a tee shirt from the man who hangs out at the Rocky statue.

But we're done at the Art Museum. We're heading back. We're approaching that man sleeping upon the park bench beneath the flag of New Zealand.

Know that you will taste him, if you don't hold your breath. You will feel him settle upon your tongue like the stale communion host you had this morning in church. You will taste urine and body odor and hopelessness.

Even in your innocence, you will taste guilt.


You will wonder why he sleeps upon that bench.

You will feel anger.

You might be afraid—no, not of him, but of possibilities and the loss of good fortune.

Rest assured, you will forget him: As you head towards Love Park, you will be distracted by a noisy, colorful parade and the people there—the happy people dancing and singing; clapping and waving to the crowd—will cause you to forget the man sleeping upon the park bench beneath the flag of New Zealand along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

But reminders are everywhere.

The beggar woman sits every day outside the Reading Terminal Market. As you approach, you will study her long, gray hair, her thick and dimpled thighs, her tarnished folding chair. You will want to reach for your camera, to capture the way she sits with her head cast down, her arms crossed against her chest. As you enter the market, you hear her mumble words that no one understands.

You will push inside the doors. Only then, will you breathe.

You will be jostled about by cheerful shoppers in search of fresh tomatoes; homemade soap smelling of roses and lavender; Amish chow chow; coffee, locally roasted. You will celebrate your good fortune in finding the farrmer from Lancaster who sells organic grapes from the hundred year old vineyard that twists along the Appalachian Trail. You will take joy in the dirt beneath his fingernails: here is a true steward of the land. You will listen to his story about a father, one hundred and four years old; an eighty-three year old brother; thirteen siblings in all. You will marvel at his vitality.

You will tell him that you've been looking for organic grapes for six months, to make a levain—a starter for the bread you wish to bake in your pretty suburban home. He will tell you that wild crab apples are best, but that the grapes are a good second choice. He will point out the white yeast that covers the grapes; the yeast that you've been seeking for six months.

You will buy two pints of organic white grapes and watch as the farmer carefully cradles them into a white plastic bag. You will hold that bag of grapes to your nose and inhale deeply and the scent will spread over your tongue like jelly or perhaps communion wine.

And as you exit the market, you will pass the beggar woman sitting outside. You will clutch your bag of organic grapes even tighter about the neck, hoping that the beggar woman won't breathe upon your precious cargo.




Labels: , , ,

7 Comments:

At October 4, 2012 at 8:57 AM , Anonymous Carrie said...

Beautiful use of second person POV.

I could taste that homeless man, even though I am thousands of miles away

 
At October 4, 2012 at 12:09 PM , Anonymous Deborah Batterman said...

Really powerful . . . And I agree with Carrie re: the way in which what you write about is so perfectly suited to the second person POV.

 
At October 4, 2012 at 2:43 PM , Anonymous Stephanie B. said...

Beautiful. And your choice of 2nd person adds to the allure as we follow your footsteps. I grew up in Amish country so for me that added even more of a dimension. Really nice imagery.

 
At October 4, 2012 at 4:28 PM , Anonymous jaum said...

Excellent writing. Are we all that disturbed by the disparity between the homeless and "We normals"? If not maybe we should be! The article is really serious food for thoughts that we ought to be having.

 
At October 5, 2012 at 4:28 PM , Anonymous Amcdonough84 said...

Well done, Kelly! Sometimes the second person makes it easier to be self-critical without being whiny or falsely humble. I think you nailed it.

 
At October 6, 2012 at 7:36 AM , Anonymous Mary Johnson said...

What an emotional piece! You really nailed connection scents to emotions.

 
At October 6, 2012 at 11:11 AM , Anonymous KathleenBasi said...

Oh, man, this is so full of conviction--as in, convicting all of us for walking by and forgetting, for going on with our "pretty suburban" lives.

 

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home