Surviving February

February 28, 2012 |  by  |  Found  |  , ,

Rindelaub Row half demolished for 10 Rittenhouse, 2006 | Photo: Bradley Maule,

Editor’s Note: The shortest month, February is also the cruelest, and often the hardest to endure. Even this one, with all the sunny days and daffodils blooming (and magnolias, crocus, cherry trees…), perhaps especially this one, with all the sunny days and daffodils blooming, spring taunting. In February, I turn to the poet Stephen Berg, founder of the American Poetry Review. Wry and miserable, alert and choking, Berg often feeds on the decay and visceral being of Philadelphia. Here’s a passage from a prose poem (Berg a master of the form), “Burning,” from the 1998 book Shaving, published by Four Way Books. Here is the old 18th Street in Center City, the 18th Street of the 1980s and 1990s; all but Sue’s is gone.

This is all there is, it is burning, birth death like a palace of leaves, burning, saw dogshit clog my cleated sole scraped it off on a curb then on grass by a tree, then used a twig, the hundred different quartz watches, buttons, displays, black and silver, in the electronics shop across from Pour Vous, Sue’s Fruits and Vegetables with its packed stalls juice machine customers, Rindelaub’s restaurant now nothing but a cheap bakery, even the faeces, even Christ, even the cracked fucked-up pavement under my feet, the gift of its drab heart (pray? should I pray?) burning–these must have told me what I had always known in my prideful terrors, but I can’t say, only God who needs no God can, or insects communicating their next move, or the pulse of a leaf–every building, shopper, car and garbage can erupting with the praise and grace of existence, a kind of delirious grief in gratitude for the possibility of existence, who yearning for who yearning for who, it was weird–instantly I resisted, windowshopped, studied books skirts shoes, watched faces, did my interminable shit-scared cretin philosophy, calculated the feel of bills in my pocket if I had enough for lunch, any appointments?–but it was happening: picture yourself caused by light witnessed by light stated by the throat of light redeemed by light.

View Larger Map

About the author

Nathaniel Popkin is co-editor of the Hidden City Daily and author of three books of non-fiction, including the forthcoming Philadelphia: Finding the Hidden City (Temple Press) and a novel, Lion and Leopard (The Head and the Hand Press). He is the senior writer of the film documentary "Philadelphia: The Great Experiment."

Leave a Reply

Comment moderation is enabled, no need to resubmit any comments posted.

Recent Posts
In Sharswood, Effort To Save Dox Thrash House Gains Momentum

In Sharswood, Effort To Save Dox Thrash House Gains Momentum

March 20, 2018  |  News

As modern urban renewal continues to erase African-American history in North Philly, one group works against the odds to preserve a renowned Philadelphia artist's legacy. Starr Herr-Cardillo has the story > more

New 40th Street Trolley Portal Design Dull On Arrival

New 40th Street Trolley Portal Design Dull On Arrival

March 19, 2018  |  Vantage

University City District's beautification of the 40th Street Trolley Portal was high on concept, but appears to have fumbled on delivery. Contributor Ann de Forest has the full review > more

Confusion And Quibbling At Mayor's Preservation Task Force Meeting

Confusion And Quibbling At Mayor’s Preservation Task Force Meeting

March 15, 2018  |  News

Mayor Kenney's Historic Preservation Task Force convened today following the release of a draft of a summary of summaries on the state of preservation in Philadelphia. Logistical bickering and sticker activities ensued. Starr Herr-Cardillo reports > more

Remembering Philly's 1967 School Walkout & The Attack On Teen Activism

Remembering Philly’s 1967 School Walkout & The Attack On Teen Activism

March 13, 2018  |  Vantage

On the eve of the national student walkout honoring the victims of the Parkland shooting, Michael Bixler takes a look back at November 17, 1967 when teenage activists demonstrating for equal rights became the target of a violent police attack > more

Oscar's Tavern Still Parties Like It's 1972

Oscar’s Tavern Still Parties Like It’s 1972

March 12, 2018  |  The Shadow Knows

The Shadow saddles up to the bar at Oscar's Tavern where the spirit of "Old Philadelphia" is as effervescent as their lagers > more

Back When We Burned Trash On The Delaware River

Back When We Burned Trash On The Delaware River

March 9, 2018  |  Harry K's Encyclopedia

Harry K. takes us on a whirlwind exploration of Philadelphia's notorious garbage problem, starting with the long-gone East Central Incinerator at Penn's Landing and then sailing around the globe before returning to today's trashy situation > more