Filthydelphia

For as long as I can remember it was the grime
…………of the Great Northeast I woke up wanting to sing
……………………about, wanting lovingly to scorn, it was that greasy

……………………shadow, smudge without a source, in the mirror
…………of Bustleton Avenue after rain, that echo trapped
down an alley tagged with treason, spritzed with piss.

I wanted everyone to forget the names
…………Thomas Eakins and William Rush, to see
……………………the Schuylkill for what it is and always was—

……………………a river of arched, ham-fisted beauty, brown
…………as a rotten tooth. I wanted South Philly to sit
in peoples’ stomachs like one of its oily meals.

Of course I’d heard the poet laureate of wailing
…………call it “Filthydelphia” and “The City of Brotherly Hate.”
……………………Of course I’d watched the fires descend on MOVE.

……………………But for as long as I can remember I wanted
…………everyone to know how we counted the dead—
the elders and the infants—on our sullied fingers,

how our voices bent around sorrow, distorting,
…………like light around an imploded star: Kensington
……………………or Olney or Fishtown. How many times did I fall

…………………..in love with the blemished sycamore leaves
…………of mid-September, the offshoots of Pennypack Creek,
each one turned to a bed of stone, scattered

with shattered glass? How often did I ignore
…………the sun, cascading down a hill, filling a gully
……………………in Fairmount Park? It’s not like I never tried

……………………to exit, like I never told myself, Get out.
…………More than once I hopped a trolley at 69th St.,
rode it all the way to Ardmore Junction

then turned around. More than once I planned
…………to vanish upstate. But I’d always end up conjuring
……………………a woman in Bethlehem or Scranton,

……………………walking into her pantry at dusk, clicking on
…………the overhead to a tidy dream of jarred tomatoes
and pickled beets, to a painless suicide

of garlic bulbs on a ceiling hook, a woman
…………who looses a shriek when a white rat flashes past
……………………her feet, into a hole leading straight to Roxborough.

……………………I’d imagine her husband in the kitchen
…………every morning, dragged up phlegm from 1950,
his first of forty years in the mines, and hocking

into a paper towel conceived by the brothers Scott.
…………Maybe someday a new beginning will shine
……………………for me and Filthydelphia, pink at the horizon,

……………………like skin after a picked-off scab.
…………Maybe I’ll quit blasting my horn
in the grungy streets, and find an answer

to the question of what I am—a man of his pure
…………word or infected sore. For now, I’ll work in
……………………charcoal—not burnt willow but compressed—

……………………harder to spread, and erase. I’ll render
…………in the darkest hues the drunken madness
of Manayunk, monied of Chestnut Hill.

One needs to soil the hands, you see, to do
…………justice to the tap rooms, the pigeons, the rails.
……………………To the faces of tenements, the renters inside.

Gregory Fraser

Gregory Fraser

Gregory Fraser is the author of four poetry collections: Strange Pietà (Texas Tech University Press, 2003), Answering the Ruins (2009), Designed for Flight (2014), and Little Armageddon (2020), all from Northwestern University Press. He is also the co-author, with Chad Davidson, of the workshop textbook Writing Poetry (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2008) and the critical writing textbook Analyze Anything (Bloomsbury, 2012). His poetry has appeared in journals including The New Yorker, The Paris Review, The Southern Review, Ploughshares, and The Gettysburg Review. Fraser is the recipient of grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation.
Gregory Fraser

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Author: Gregory Fraser

Gregory Fraser is the author of four poetry collections: Strange Pietà (Texas Tech University Press, 2003), Answering the Ruins (2009), Designed for Flight (2014), and Little Armageddon (2020), all from Northwestern University Press. He is also the co-author, with Chad Davidson, of the workshop textbook Writing Poetry (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2008) and the critical writing textbook Analyze Anything (Bloomsbury, 2012). His poetry has appeared in journals including The New Yorker, The Paris Review, The Southern Review, Ploughshares, and The Gettysburg Review. Fraser is the recipient of grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation.