Art & Design

Surviving February

February 28, 2012 | by Nathaniel Popkin

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

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.


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About the Author

Nathaniel Popkin Hidden City Daily co-founder Nathaniel Popkinā€™s latest novel, "The Year of the Return," explores race and loss in a year of upheaval, 1976. His book To "Reach the Spring: From Complicity to Consciousness in an Age of Eco-Crisis" is forthcoming in December 2020.

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